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The Burning Plain (2009)



Average Rating: 4.9/10
Reviews Counted: 75
Fresh: 26 | Rotten: 49

This heavily symbolic, melodramatic multi-narrative drama lacks emotional resonance.


Average Rating: 3.9/10
Critic Reviews: 19
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 16

This heavily symbolic, melodramatic multi-narrative drama lacks emotional resonance.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.3/5
User Ratings: 8,293

My Rating

Movie Info

Sylvia's cool, professional demeanor masks the sexually charged storm within. When a stranger from Mexico confronts her with her mysterious past, she is launched into a journey through space and time that inextricably connects her to disparate characters, all of whom are grappling with their own romantic destinies. In Mexico, a young motherless girl, Maria, lives happily with her father and his best friend until a tragic accident changes it all. In the New Mexico border town of Las Cruces, two


Drama, Romance

Guillermo Arriaga

Jan 12, 2010


Magnolia Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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September 17, 2009:
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All Critics (78) | Top Critics (20) | Fresh (26) | Rotten (49) | DVD (3)

The burning is mostly on the plain, not in this labyrinthine story.

October 16, 2009
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Throw in enough symbolism to choke an English-lit major and you have a film challenge that too often feels like a chore.

October 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

If Arriaga had allowed us to spend more time with the key characters in this extended tragedy, or had spent some time punching up the plot, The Burning Plain might have had a chance.

October 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Toronto Star
Toronto Star
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Possibly the stories fit too neatly. If so, it's hardly a fatal flaw.

October 2, 2009 Full Review Source: Denver Post
Denver Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's serious stuff, intended for serious movie people. The only problem is, serious movie people have already been there, done that.

September 25, 2009 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The result is confusion, not catharsis.

September 25, 2009 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

What's that smell? The plain isn't the only thing that's charred in screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut; subtlety goes up in flames too.

November 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Film Comment Magazine
Film Comment Magazine

Deep-seated emotional problems are examined in a complex movie that, as ever with Arriaga, refuses to fit into a straightforward narrative.

March 13, 2011 Full Review Source: What Culture
What Culture

Knowing ... that it's a 20-year old story, one can only conclude the idea behind the film would have been best left unfilmed, an unfinished step toward greater things.

January 31, 2011 Full Review Source: Las Vegas CityLife

Babel director shows his hand too soon

September 28, 2010 Full Review Source: Movie Habit
Movie Habit

Arriaga's multi-narrative format got the best of him. Rather than deliver a sense of shock and awe, it's swallowed up by complexity, leaving you to wonder, "This is it?"

August 12, 2010 Full Review Source:

When so many cinema releases are instantly forgettable, The Burning Plain clings to the memory...

April 26, 2010 Full Review Source: The Australian
The Australian

A melancholy but also profoundly uplifting film by the talented Guillermo Arriaga. Storytelling is an artform and Arriaga is a master

April 24, 2010 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

I think Ariaga needs to find another structuring device: this is way too complex, and Arriaga is so busy time-shifting that it takes quite a while to figure out who the characters are, and the way their relationships come together.

April 23, 2010 Full Review Source: MovieTime, ABC Radio National | Comment (1)
MovieTime, ABC Radio National

It's a hard film to love, partly because of its air of deadly seriousness.

April 22, 2010 Full Review Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Sydney Morning Herald

Even if the film is a little contrived, it's quite a haunting experience...

April 21, 2010 Full Review Source: At the Movies (Australia)
At the Movies (Australia)

Once it all clicks into place and viewers are left to engage with the characters, the heavy misery and self-importance of the piece becomes overwhelming.

April 21, 2010 Full Review Source: FILMINK (Australia)
FILMINK (Australia)

None of the characters breathe... They're knocked helplessly, lifelessly around in the service of the oh-so-serious story.

January 21, 2010 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Charlize Theron and Kim Bassinger star in an intriguing drama where past and present are brought together to reveal how you can be redeemed through love

December 12, 2009 Full Review Source: Screenwize

A dreary mess directed and written by Guillermo Arriaga. Since it is Arriaga's first directing assignment, he can only blame his screenwriter for this uninvolving melodrama.

November 13, 2009 Full Review Source:

All of these seemingly disparate stories are related, but Arriaga connects them more slowly than an alert viewer can on his or her own.

October 29, 2009 Full Review Source:

It wearily limps along with its joyless obvious tale of loss, guilt and redemption.

October 26, 2009 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Theron continues her string of terrific and daring thespian performances. She lays bare her body and soul in this unforgettable heartbreaking turn.

October 24, 2009 Full Review Source: Entertainment Spectrum
Entertainment Spectrum

The film isn't entirely believable in some places, but I did admire the skill of the storytelling and the neat way all the pieces come together.

October 23, 2009 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

It lacks whatever Inarritu brought ... something like a joyful playfulness to leaven the dolefulness of Arriaga's literary vision.

October 18, 2009 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Just because a movie has over-sexed blonds, lusty teens, roasted birds, a fire, a plane crash, self-mutilation and Charlize Theron's breasts doesn't mean it won't be bad. But it shouldn't be boring.

October 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Jam! Movies
Jam! Movies

Audience Reviews for The Burning Plain

The Burning Plain, a romantic mystery about a woman on the edge who takes an emotional journey back to the defining moment of her life. Written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel). It is a heart breaking, touching movie. It follows the formula of having a main story with various sub-stories that in the end their paths are crossed. The rhythm is a little slow, it continuously changes from story to story making it hard to follow and a little boring at some moments. The cast is good. Charliza Theron, Kim Basinger John Corbett, Robin Tunney, Jose Maria Yazpik, everyone delivering very convincing performances although some of them are a little overacted aswell. In conclusion, If you've seen Babel or 21 Grams or Amores Perros, all of them written by Ariaga, then you know what to expect with The Burning Plain
January 5, 2011

Super Reviewer

The only reason to watch this film is the remarkable performance by Jennifer Lawrence, who recently garnered a Golden Globe nomination for another film. She captures a perfect balance between the impetuousness of youth and the world-weary bitterness of a daughter forced to grow up too soon, and late in the film she has an uninhibited crying scene that makes Viola Davis's part in Doubt look like it's as guarded as Russell Crowe.
As far as the story is concerned, I think of Kurt Vonnegut's "rules" for writing. He effectively said, "Don't hide anything from the audience. Fuck suspense." He also said, "Flannery O'Connor violates all of these rules and still writes effective fiction." Hi ho. Writer/director Guillermo Arriaga would have done well to remember Vonnegut's "rules" because for much of the movie, we feel like the episodic scenes we're presented with are too disconnected in theme and substance to amount to anything interesting. It turns out that the stories are connected, but by the time we find this out, we've stopped caring.
Overall, catch a rising star in Lawrence but to hell with the rest of the film.
December 14, 2010
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

The first film by Guillermo Arriaga since his public breakup with professional partner Alejandro González Iñárritu, a collaboration that rendered such lauded projects as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. Fire is a recurring theme that appears all through the plot of The Burning Plain. Like in other stories by Mexican-born writer Arriaga, the story follows a non-linear narrative.

The strength of the film is found in its female cast: from Charlize Theron (who also executive-produced) and Kim Basinger to newcomers Tessa Ia and Jennifer Lawrence, the latter giving the best performance in the film as "Mariana". Lawrence is already gathering considerable Oscar buzz for her role in another drama, Winter's Bone. Also of note is the cinematography by Robert Elswit (There Will be Blood), which is particularly stunning when showing the chilly Portland shore.

Guillermo Arriaga's one and only big mistake is his inability to really capture the essence of Mexico and its people which, frankly, is a mistake no Mexican filmmaker should make. Most of the Mexican (or Mexican-American) characters that appear in the film feel fake and artificial, even stereotypical, which isn't something unheard of in the world of cinema, but one would definitely expect more authenticity from a director that's portraying his own culture.
October 31, 2010
This was really good. Charlize Theron is such a great actress. It took me a little while to figure out who was who in this movie, cuz they were jumping around quite a bit from present to past and back. It all came together quite nicely, though, and made for one heck of a story with a really nice ending.
October 14, 2010

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Auf brennender Erde (DE)
  • Loin de la terre brûlée (FR)
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