In The Burning Plain, the intersecting lives of multiple characters come crashing into one story that is both gripping and incredibly layered. Until just recently, movies that skip back and forth between multiple stories were deemed to be avant garde and confusing. But with the advent and popularity of films like Memento and Crash, this method of storytelling is no longer so polarizing.
Still, the story may confuse some because it is multi-tiered and is told from different perspectives at varying times in the characters lives. But if you find yourself engrossed with the first story, everything else will fall into place and you'll find that you've been following the story without any problems.
The story itself is a richly textured one. It concerns a woman named Sylvia (Theron) who is on the verge of a mid-life crisis because of a traumatic childhood event concerning her family--more specifically, her mother (Basinger.) When Sylvia is confronted with the product of her mistake in the form of a daughter, she must come to terms with her past and the errors of her ways.
Essentially, the movie explores the delicate line on which people walk throughout their whole lives in order to avoid being hurt. There comes a point in everybody's life when one must choose to keep running from the things that cause us pain or confront them head-on and suffer the consequences and/or reap the benefits.
The film slowly unravels itself unto its audience, ultimately leaving the viewer greatly satisfied at the way the character have chosen to play out their roles in the story. The acting by Theron and Basinger is stellar as the sullen pair of women that anchor what could have been a chaotic film. Their performances are the root of the film's extrapolating branches and all the fruits that those branches bear are a direct result from the seeds that they sow with every nuance and subtle revelation in their performances.
Hopefully, the efforts of Theron, Basigner and director Guillermo Arriaga won't go unnoticed come awards season. The Burning Plain is definitely one of the best of the year so far and, although somewhat understated and slightly depressing, it is a brilliant little gem that deserves to be discovered and admired by many.