The Burning Plain
September 18, 2009
On the Big Board
||I didn't like the jumping around in time at first, but the story comes together at the end with a great performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
Guillermo Arriaga was the writing talent behind emotional driven movies such as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. If you’ve seen at least one of those then you won’t be too surprised to learn that The Burning Plain, Arriaga’s directorial debut, is another multi-narrative, interlocked story. This one flashes forwards, backwards, diagonally and loop-the-loops over decades and borders. As usual, all the characters are connected by a singular, often tragic, event.
Sylvia (Charlize Theron) is the manager of an upmarket restaurant in Portland. She spends her free time having joyless sexual encounters, be it with her staff or her customers. Meanwhile, on the border of New Mexico, housewife Gina (Kim Basinger) is getting some action herself, embarking on an affair with Nick (Joaquim de Almeida) a gentle man who makes her feel whole and beautiful. However, her teenage daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) has discovered her mother’s secret. Feeling betrayed, she begins her own misguided romance with Nick’s son Santiago (J.D Pardo).
The Burning Plain played the Toronto and Glasgow Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Critics at the screenings have described it as slow and confusing, but then, given Arriaga’s previous work, this is to be expected. Praise has been heaped on the performances from Theron, Basinger and Lawrence, with Cinematical describing Theron as, “rock solid.” Notably she also has a credit as executive producer.
Arriaga is able to thread parallel storylines almost effortlessly (Babel got him nominations for an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe) with emotional importance and characters finding out truths they probably didn’t wish to know. The Burning Plain just feels like more of the same. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if it was told in a liner fashion with lesser stars, it would certainly go unnoticed.
Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel were directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the most successful of which was Babel, reaching $34 million domestically, despite a somewhat limited release. Even with a real marketing push (expect posters and adverts quoting, “From the writer of 21 Grams and Babel”) The Burning Plain is likely to fall a little short. (Shalimar Sahota/BOP)