Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, an American truck driver who decided to take a job in Iraq. He’s not a soldier. He’s not a spy. He’s not a shadow operative of any kind. He’s just a contractor. He delivers supplies to schools and businesses. That’s all.
But it’s not simple as he wishes it were. At the beginning of this film, we wake up in the dark with him in his own coffin. He’s buried alive in a wooden box. He has a cell phone and a lighter, and later discovers a flashlight. They’ve been helpfully supplied by his captors so he could make a video on the cell phone decrying American imperialism. He tries to claim that he doesn’t know anything about the politics, he’s not a combatant, but the person on the other end is singularly unsympathetic.
In fact, that’s pretty much what Paul Conroy encounters no matter whom he tries to call. The company he works for hands him over to some guy in legal who wants him to understand that he was fired one day prior to getting captured, so they wouldn’t be responsible for his insurance to his survivors. He gets his wife’s voicemail. Again and again. He tries to call someone else who knows her — a friend? — but after her unhelpfulness he winds up screaming at her in frustration.
Sure, he’s going crazy with claustrophobia and fear, who wouldn’t be? He tries calling the FBI, the State Department, 911, anybody — and finally he finds someone in a government office somewhere who claims to be searching for him. Conroy fears even this faceless voice is some glorified baby-sitter who isn’t really mounting a rescue operation, they just want to know his exact location so they’ll have more precise co-ordinates for their next target.
This is an intense, visceral, kind of theater experience, that many people will not want to avail themselves of — there are no laughs, no lightheartedness, no chase scenes, no clever computer graphics, no sexy eye candy, no breathtaking landscapes, no cutesie relationship humor — nothing but increased anxiety, panic, and helplessness. It’s disturbing, but in its unique, frightening way, draws the viewer into a personal hell that’s unlike any other.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor, Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.