The Burning Plain Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ September 18, 2010
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
Super Reviewer
December 14, 2010
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.
Super Reviewer
½ February 12, 2009
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.
Super Reviewer
October 14, 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.
Super Reviewer
½ September 18, 2010
The Burning Plain opens with a trailer in the middle of the desert that is engulfed in flame. It just sits there, an inferno with a background that John Ford would be proud of. We come to find out that there were two people in the blaze: Gina (Kim Basinger) and Nick (Joaquim de Almeida). They were in the throws of passion when the propane tank exploded. The two were married. But not to each other. Out of the ashes Nick's son (J.D. Pardo) and Gina's daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) develop a romance after satisfying the curiosity of what each lover was like. As time passes we're introduced to Sophie (Charlize Theron), a restaurant manager whose life has turned into a series of meaningless sex acts and self mutilation.

The funny thing about The Burning Plain is how it surprises you. You expect the main focus to be Basinger's relationship or Theron's loss of life, but at the central core of the film isn't a couple playing in the desert, put how their children help each other cope and eventually create what was destroyed in that trailer in the desert. That's the most interesting story. Through all the odds and animosity they hold it together.

Even though it's not a perfect film, it does hold ones interest with a story that spans time and how it will catch up with you . It is more tragedy than romance, so don't go into this expecting Nicholas Sparks garbage. This is actually well written and acted with a sense for detail. A nice film.
Super Reviewer
½ August 13, 2010
It took me a little bit to start piecing things together, but I did and it turned out to be an okay film. Wouldn't watch it again...
Super Reviewer
May 10, 2010
Initially, it was a bit difficult to keep in track with the timeline, but after a while, I was able to get it. However, the movie is not worth the exercise!!!
Super Reviewer
½ September 7, 2009
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.
Super Reviewer
September 4, 2008
"My name is not Mariana!.."

A drama with a two-tiered storyline concerning a mother (Basinger) and daughter (Theron) who try to form a bond after the young woman's difficult childhood.

The writer Guillermo Arriaga, much famed for his trilogy of films with director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, namely Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, steps behind the camera and debuts his own directing skills with 'The Burning Plain' a multi-layered affair that at its core tries to explore how we deal with guilt. If you didn't like the style of the aforementioned films then chances are you won't get on with this either. The story is told in interweaving flashbacks and over different time periods and does require some work on the part of the viewer. But with plot pieces trickled out like a bread crumb trail right up to the end, a great but subtle score and some breathtaking scenery it grips you as you slowly piece it all together. Added to that there are the two brilliant central performances from Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, as the damaged mother and daughter and a supporting cast that in their various roles are also superb especially Jennifer Lawrence who rightly won an award at the Venice Film Festival. The cinematography is great and the colours are so warm you can almost feel the Mexican heat coming out of the screen. The direction while not quite as good as Inarritu proves that Arriaga was indeed paying attention and the overall feel is eerily similar. The only downside is that it does leave certain characters stories unfinished but that really is just a minor quibble in what is a very emotionally charged and challenging film.
Super Reviewer
September 3, 2009
Arriaga's characteristic style comes unstuck as his tricksy timeline adds little and masks some illogical plot developments.
Super Reviewer
½ August 25, 2009
Super Reviewer
November 28, 2010
"The Burning Plain" starts in New Mexico where a trailer explodes killing Nick(Joaquim de Almeida) and Gina(Kim Basinger) who were using it as a love shack, sending shockwaves through the otherwise tight knit town that was unaware of their affair.

In Portland, Or, Sylvia(Charlize Theron) runs a successful upscale restaurant with her friend Laura(Robin Tunney). Sylvia will not date customers but will date the help, namely John(John Corbett, in danger of being typecast as the nice guy who is interested only in unstable women), a chef, while putting on a show for the public in downtown Portland which is probably not that out of the ordinary there. It is ironic because she hides her feelings well, preferring to burn herself with cigarettes rather than any genuine emotions. And that's when Carlos(Jose Maria Yazpik) enters her life.

Contrary to what you may have heard, "The Burning Plain" is not told in non-sequential fashion. Instead, it uses its different settings to tell a compelling story about the need for forgiveness with the usual strong work from Charlize Theron. That's not to say the movie is without its share of flaws, however. Admittedly, it will not take a genius to figure how all the parts fit together well ahead of the movie's weak resolution. And it is not believable that only one person in a small town would know of an affair. Love may be able to conquer all but it is not more powerful than gossip. Plus, it is kind of reductive to show New Mexico as symbolizing emotional warmth while Portland's raininess is supposed to symbolize the dreariness of the characters' lives. On the other hand, the cinematography is excellent.
Super Reviewer
½ April 22, 2012
For all the time this movie spends going back and forth through time, the characters at the center of the story are never really given a chance to become fleshed out and more complex. The plot jumps between four different stories, which are slowly revealed to all be closely connected to one another. Really though, only two of the story lines are engaging, mainly because there is very little time spent with the other two, and because of this the plot feels disjointed at times. The plot does eventually come together though, and when it does the movie makes much more sense and is easier to follow. The movie definitely feels a bit melodramatic a lot of the time also, especially towards the end. I did actually like some aspects of it though, namely the romance between Jennifer Lawrence and JD Pardo, which seemed sweet, albeit occasionally cheesy. If the movie had been more focused and maybe just stuck to one story at a time, the characters could have been much more compelling, but because of the plot that's constantly pulling the characters in different directions, they're never given a chance to show their true colors. The movie ends up being mediocre but watchable, and as long as you're not expecting too much out of it, you might like it.
Super Reviewer
½ December 8, 2008
Although I find Arriaga a genius wehn it comes to writting films (e.g. 21 grams, Babel, Amores perros) he was not quite convincing as a director. This film is a bit muffled and albeit some good acting from everyone, I never fully conected with the emotional undercurrents.
Francisco G.
Super Reviewer
½ January 16, 2013
Features Arriaga's traditional broken narrative style for good dramatic effects, has a brilliant cinematography that mirrors well the characters and what they're put through, subtle but affecting asoundtrack, some stellar performances by Theron, Lawrence and Basinger but just doesn't quite resonate emotionally as much as his previous partnerships with Iñarritú.

A strong debut, this tale of redemption, acceptance, forgiveness and at times the darkest corners of humanity, is a definite watch from someone who has a very clear and distinctive voice.
Super Reviewer
½ January 13, 2010
Another miserable POS woe is me drama crap. The only redeaming portion of this movie is Charlize Theron's nude scene.
March 21, 2015
Charlize Theron plays a young woman running from her past. A freak accident brings the daughter she gave up years ago, back into her life. She then relives the pain of a buried secret, and a memory of a mother she didn't know.
June 30, 2009
The intersections of these stories was rather interesting and well done, but you can see the ending coming from a mile away.
May 13, 2012
It took me a little bit to start piecing things together, but I did and it turned out to be an okay film.
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