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8/10
A new fragmented tale by Guillermo Arriaga
Max_cinefilo8927 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Following his artistic divorce from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, writer Guillermo Arriaga, whose Tarantino-inspired interlocked storytelling also formed the basis of Tommy Lee Jones' magnificent The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, makes his debut as director with The Burning Plain, another recount of connected fates.

Whereas his previous screenplays were male-driven, The Burning Plain stands out for having three women at the center of things: Sylvia (Charlize Theron) is a restaurant owner who, despite what appears to be a relationship with one of her employees (John Corbett), is deeply unsatisfied and spends all of her free time smoking cigarettes and sleeping with other men; Gina (Kim Basinger) is your typical housewife, except she's survived breast cancer and is cheating on her husband (Brett Cullen) with a Mexican man named Nick (Joaquim de Almeida); Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence), Gina's daughter, is probably the most messed up of the three, especially after she starts dating Nick's son Santiago. And finally, remaining on the female front, there's also a little girl, Maria, who travels from Mexico to the United States with a family friend to find her long lost mother.

As always with Arriaga, these stories are linked by a tragic event: in Amores Perros and 21 Grams it was a car crash, while in Babel it was a gunshot wound. This time, the connection, though not that obvious, is a burning trailer seen in the first scene of the film. The twist is that the writer/director has gotten more ambitious in telling yet another human tragedy: instead of having a geographic separation between the three plot strands, like he did in Babel, he goes for the most classic of choices, namely time shifts, only those aren't proper flashbacks, and therefore, as one can expect, it takes a while before all the pieces fit together. By choosing this narrative solution Arriaga is trying to tell us he can do just as fine a job as his former collaborator Inarritu behind the camera, but it's hardly a surprise to find out he doesn't always succeed: being a first-time director, he prefers to keep things safe with a classic style rather than adapting some of Inarritu's tricks (most notably the chromatic link between character and mood) to his own vision. And it must be said that a more experienced filmmaker would have known how to avoid the emotional flatness that comes from the few scenes (two or three at the most) where Arriaga panders to the genre's most idiotic clichés (three words: hospital, coma, confession).

Overall, however, the narrative is very solid, and having learned a valuable lesson from his past creative partners Arriaga has set up a cast that doesn't really include any big names (Theron notwithstanding) but delivers a string of compelling performances: the most touching turns come from Basinger, always good when playing vulnerable, damaged women, and de Almeida, whose tenderness comes off as a real surprise given his fame (in the US at least) as rough crime lords in Desperado and the third season of 24. Lawrence pulls off her tricky role with a maturity that justifies the Mastroianni Award (i.e. Most Promising Newcomer) she won at the Venice Film Festival. Cullen, Corbett and Danny Pino impress despite the limited screen time at their disposal, and Theron, still partially recovering from the Aeon Flux fiasco, portrays Sylvia with the kind of understated intensity that characterizes her best work.

Verdict: if you were unmoved by Inarritu's films, this is not for you. Otherwise, give it a try: it's not as mesmerizing as 21 Grams, but in its best moments it comes close enough.
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9/10
An underrated master-work about the repercussions of an illicit affair
tigerfish504 August 2010
Guillermo Arriaga was the writer for Inarritu's films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) and here dons the director's mantel for the first time on a major film project. "The Burning Plain" is an intense story that plays out over thirteen years, although all the action is squeezed into two segments at each end of the time span. The film relates how an extra-marital affair has repercussions that echo down through the following years. The chain of events is initiated when Gina, a housewife and mother, embarks on a passionate romance with Nick, a Mexican with a family of his own. After a gas tank fire kills the lovers while they make love in a remote desert trailer, Gina's traumatized teenage daughter Mariana becomes friends with Nick's son Santiago. Drawn together by their need to understand the tragedy, they soon become secret lovers themselves, and the grieving families are both outraged when the youngsters' romantic attachment is discovered. Santiago flees to Mexico with the pregnant Mariana, but the consequences of Gina and Nick's illicit affair have only just begun to manifest themselves.

Arriaga focuses on the mother, daughter and grand-daughter at the story's center. He uses four actresses for their roles - two being required for the teenage Mariana and her 30-something persona - and all of them (Kim Basinger, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence and Tessa la) give exceptional performances. When Mariana first notices evidence of her mother's infidelity, she remains silent and carries the burden alone. The breach between them widens as Mariana's investigations confirm her suspicions - and the youthful beauty of her face transforms into a mask as she conceals knowledge that could destroy her family. Arriaga portrays the situation with a poignant delicacy that amplifies the pain of the girl's dilemma - showing the silent spread of the poison, its contagion first claiming the mother-daughter relationship, and then creating new ripples of damage that will ultimately infect the next generation.

The narrative has a tighter arc than Arriaga's work with Inarritu - it's essentially a simple tale, illustrating how one transgression can set in motion the uncontrollable engine of fate. He relies on classical cinematic techniques rather than Inarritu's flashy ones - but as in his previous work, Arriaga breaks up the story's chronological flow by chopping back and forth between the two time segments. One can't help wondering if the method was necessary here, since the story is so strong and linear. However this is just a quibble - "The Burning Plain" results in something close to a masterpiece which shares many thematic elements found in the work of Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Dostoevsky.
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8/10
.
cassandra_gaia2 June 2009
The movie reminded me of Babel, which is not that crazy since Arriaga wrote and directed Babel together with Alejandro González Iñárritu. (I only found this out after I saw The Burning Plain). Whereas I thought Babel was good but not superb, I absolutely loved The Burning Plain. just like Babel, The Burning Plain doesn't do chronology and I love the way Arriaga uses the lack of a chronological time-line to put you on a sidetrack time and time again. Of course I suspected things but I completely missed one of the biggest twists. Past and present are so mixed up that it isn't until quite far into the movie that you realise how all the characters are connected. And in this connection you'll find the big difference between the two movies. Whereas Babel shows the stories of people that are only connected by coincidence, The Burning Plain goes much further than that. When, almost in the end, you find out what really happened you cannot but acknowledge the genius of the person who wrote the story and the stylish way the movie was directed.

Once the 'big twist' is revealed it was like an 'aha-Erlebnis'. From beginning until ending you are wondering about the connections between the characters. "What does Sylvia have to do with Mariana and Santiago, or with Gina and Nick"? When eventually you find out, it is like a puzzle with the last piece falling in place. The result is a beautiful picture with a sad undertone, but not one I would have wanted to miss.
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7/10
complex story revealing itself gradually
antoniotierno17 November 2008
Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, the one of "21 Grams", employs a very peculiar narrative style to tell stories of different characters, Charlize Theron's Sylvia, Jennifer Lawrence's Marina, and Kim Basinger's Gina. At first everything seems a bit messy (various threads seemingly insignificant) but then the plot gets poignant though a little oppressive. Acting performances are affecting and strong (especially Charlize Theron), the tone is progressively melodramatic. It's undeniable that The Burning Plain possesses the style of a strong drama, never run-of-the-mill and with an emotional resonance resembling 21 Grams. Overall a very good sad film, with a finale that strikes a lot.
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7/10
Forced and forceful, gradually makes sense and gets to you...give it time
secondtake26 June 2010
The Burning Plain (2008)

Following a growing trend toward taking a straight forward story and making it complicated by telling it out of order, The Burning Plain might have shown the fault lines in that method. And it's not that the story, a kind of Romeo and Juliet with child story, isn't riveting. It is. And it's not that the telling of it isn't interesting. It is. But the telling is so forcefully complicated, it draws attention to itself, and away from the more human drama that is at work.

That said, it's also true that every high point here there is a storytelling gaffe. The cross cultural Mexican/American themes are generally underplayed (the exception being the insults thrown at the funeral), and convincing. The basic love story is strong enough, too, and given a nice second layer through time, as you'll see. But there are some quirks that are made both improbable and overly dramatic. One of the tenderhearted heros of the story is shown too visibly as a disturbed stalker. And the lead woman, played with a kind of virtuosic exuberance as usual by Charlize Theron, has almost too much to juggle, emotionally and literally. It just doesn't wash.

Most troubling is the writing. Not the big picture, the plot and the large sequence of events, but the actually dialog. This kind of gritty and dire movie laced with real love has to be convincing above all, and there are dozens of moments and individual lines that just smack as screen writing rather than real characters thinking and speaking.

So it's a mixed bag. An ambitious and promising mixed bag, with some moving and beautiful moments. I think it's worth seeing, but with tolerance.
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9/10
Time changes everything
sundance74901 May 2009
I had recently become a fan of both Guillermo Arriaga and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's work through their previous four films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and Babel (in order of release). In hearing of their creative break-up, it certainly stirred, in my own mind, a possibility of double the good films... or a film-making battle accomplishing nothing. "The Burning Plain" by Guillermo Arriaga is the first of these fruits. Good or bad? You decide. I think good... but missing something.

The Burning Plain follows the story of several different people separated by time and space -- Sylvia, a woman in Oregon who must undertake an emotional odyssey to rid herself of her past; Mariana and Santiago, two teenagers trying to piece together the shattered lives of their parents in a New Mexico border town; Maria, a little girl who goes on a border-crossing voyage to help her parents find redemption, forgiveness, and love; and Gina and Nick, a couple who must deal with an intense and clandestine affair... because they are both married.

Charlize Theron leads the ensemble cast. Theron, I have previously seen in a consortium of roles from Sleepwalking and Monster to The Italian Job. I am glad to say she brings a much more subtle feeling to Sylvia, the central character in the film, without going over the top. The sides we see from the past and present also reflect Sylvia's personality; a side of professionalism brought in by a new skin in the present while her not-forgotten past hiding deep within but brought out by her sexual trysts and self-mutilation.

Also leading the present side of the story is newcomer Tessa Ia in a challenging role she takes at face value despite her young age. With Mexican actor Jose Maria Yazpik in a gentle role, along with Theron, the three are arguably the best actors in the film. Ia's performances hails true talent and not nearly enough credit. With a fierce look in the eyes of a child trying to obtain forgiveness in her own soul, Ia is an actress mature beyond her years. The present stories take on these subtleties that audiences will figure out after the film has ended. This is where the second half (figuratively speaking) of the film suffers.

Focused too much of what is going on in a certain time in the past, the characters of Gina and Nick suffer due to a lack of development. We know of their affair, we know what is going on and we are given too much of that without enough understanding of who they are on their own. Kim Basinger does her best in the role but ultimately is too flat with her delivery. Gina is a sympathetic character because of the screenplay and where the writing takes her, not because of Basinger's performance. Joaquim de Almeida's Nick is more interesting despite a lack of screen time, also due to the lack of development.

The story of Mariana and Santiago is much better because it escapes from this problem and we are given a beginning, middle and end to their story (per se). JD Pardo gives a nice understanding to Santiago and allows for a much better look at the character as an adult when you finally realize who it is (I will not give anything away). However, Jennifer Lawrence as Mariana is probably my most disliked actor of the group. Despite winning the best newcomer award at the Venice Film Festival, her delivery is monotone and lacks any sort of true feeling for what has happened. This also counts for in between two sections of her life... but a nice reaction to a certain event ultimately saved her entire performance.

The film has amazing undertones that audiences won't figure out until later. There are several different themes played on such as the theme of love which is included not only through relationships, though this is the main ingredient, but from children to parents, siblings, and great friendships. The latter is what genuinely seals this aspect of the film as Jose Maria Yazpik and Robin Tunney's characters bring their perspective leads to a connection. Another underlying theme was that of scars. Whether through self-mutilation or a past surgery, Sylvia, Santiago, Mariana, Maria, and Gina all end up with (literal) scars by the end of the film that they cannot forget about eluding to the main theme of the film that the past effects the present.

I was hoping that it wouldn't be just a carbon copy of what Inarritu has done before (in an attempt to win an audience). I felt the same way about Three Burials which is why I have rated it with only 8. This is going to be the first major problem for Arriaga on his own creative path. While unfortunate, it is inevitable: audiences will go in expecting the same intense fair Innaritu has been giving them and will see a more tame version of that. Luckily, the wonderful production values and gorgeous cinematography by veteran Robert Elswit and John Toll, tacked on with a beautiful soundtrack, ultimately send the story flying.

With a number of events occurring through the story, you are never left bored. Piecing together the puzzle isn't really as difficult as it may seem. For Babel it was all about figuring out which story was in what time period. In The Burning Plain it's about who is who and how time has taken it's toll on the characters, which makes it much more interesting in a more creative way. This is where direction suffers as it is obvious Guillermo Arriaga was more focused on the story than he was his actors, but it all falls together without disrupting anything. Hopefully the creative split will allow audiences to realize there is a large difference between directors and Arriaga and Innaritu are no exception.
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7/10
Solid debut for writer Arriaga.
come2whereimfrom12 April 2009
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 afore mentioned films then chances are you wont 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 breadcrumb 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.
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8/10
Burningly interwoven plains...
Soha Bayoumi26 April 2009
This is the first feature directing experience for Guillermo Arriaga. Already an established writer (Amores Perros, Babel, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), Arriaga promisingly directs his own script in this movie. The movie follows the characteristic feature of Arriaga's script: fragmented stories, sometimes happening simultaneously, and sometimes happening at different time periods. The editing is intriguing, prompting you to try and seek connections between the different stories. The performances are amazing (especially Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger's). The landscape choices and the cinematography are beautiful. The Burning Plain is a poignant story about desperation, betrayal, trauma, revenge, guilt and self-hatred, with the stories of three female characters and different "plains" burningly interwoven to deliver a moving depiction of these themes... Highly recommended!
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Broken Plains
Chrysanthepop10 April 2011
Films about interlocked fragmented stories aren't anything new to writer and director Guillermo Arriaga. As director, 'The Burning Plain' is his first feature film and its quite apparent that he has poured his heart into it. Here too the film involves three stories that are told separately but linked by the first scene.

However, the non-linearity of storytelling is initially confusing but once the tragic link is made apparent, the gut-wrenching conclusion (that explains the explosion shown in the first scene) hits the viewer hard. The setting is very simplistic but rich in atmosphere especially with the dark subtle undertones. The beautiful score contributes well.

Arriaga has gathered an impressive ensemble of actors who deliver wonderfully understated performances. Charlize Theron portrays Sylvia with a subtle intensity. Kim Basinger is skillfully restrained and Jennifer Lawrence shows tremendous potential. John Corbett, Robin Tunney, José María Yazpik, Rachel Ticotin, Brett Cullen, Tessa Ia and Joaquin de Almeida provide great support.

Despite the initial confusion, the narrative is strong. There are a few clichés that could have been avoided, such as the confession scene in the hospital, but these are very minor and don't effect the impact of the film. In the end, 'The Burning Plain' is a solid film.
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6/10
Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger Carry This Drama
chicagopoetry22 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to follow The Burning Plain because it shifts through time without any warning. We don't figure out until mid-film that this character is actually the grown up version of that character and so forth. This is a rather slow drama saved by the acting talents of two professional actresses, Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger. I find it pretty weird that I didn't discover until 2010 this film starring these two superstars that was made in 2008. It's a statement about how hard it is for indie movies to get any exposure in this market dominated by big budget blockbusters. The theaters are owned by a monopoly and the little movie simply doesn't have a chance these days. It is sad and it is killing the art of film-making. Jennifer Lawrence is simply astonishingly beautiful which doesn't make watching this movie any less pleasant. We never get a clue about exactly how the White breast cancer survivor gets involved with the Mexican farmer thus putting into play the tragedy that ultimately occurs, and at times the interaction between characters is unrealistic. I mean, really, if a group of white kids came to a Mexican funeral and started shouting "wetback I hope you rot in hell" are we really expected to believe there wouldn't be some conflict following, at least a few nasty words exchanged? But the brooding mood is quite consistent and watching The Burning Plain won't leave you cheated in any way. If you like serious drama, this will be your cup of tea.
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5/10
Great Cast, Cinematography, but Plausible?
merylmatt15 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoy indie films, non linear plot lines, use of flashbacks to keep you guessing as to what is happening and how it all ties together. I think the actors Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger do a good job with the acting and the film itself is very beautiful. The cold, desolate desert and poor countryside help create an atmosphere of depression, sadness and a desire to run from it all. I get the themes of forgiving, scarred people, flawed people.

**Major Plot Spoiler** Here's the problem - I know it's possible for these events to happen, I also know it's a directors right to take liberty with facts to show emotions or something else. However, how likely is it that a teenage girl will kill her adulterous mom, then hook up with the mom's lover's son, run off, have a child, run away from that, then the abandoned girl rediscovers the mother, forgives her and they all move on? It is an interesting exploration into the emotions of the characters, but if a viewer is left approaching this film as a mystery, or admiring its cinematography, then something was missing in the plot - for me, that was credibility.
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7/10
Life as a series of scars.
Jamie Ward14 July 2009
Cause harm repeatedly to most parts of the body and they eventually grow desensitised, calloused and indifferent to the pain over time. This dispassionate, earthy and very dry aesthetic that film-maker Guillermo Arriaga applies to the world of his first major directorial outing is king; between the barren desert landscapes that permeate within the backdrops of his strangely distant and out-of-sync characters and the sparse narrative that intertwines it all together, The Burning Plain views life as a series of scars—cold and unrepresentative of the pain that brought them to the surface, but a firm reminder as such that nothing ever quite goes away, no matter how far you run. For the characters of Arriaga's story, a central catastrophe of sorts serves as the unfortunate catalyst that will bring them all together whether they like it or not. A burning trailer, housing two lovers sharing a passionate affair behind their families back, exploding in a rage of flames seemingly caused by accident. For them, the movie opens with their death thus absolving them from living with their irrevocable actions, but for those they leave behind the past stays as a constant and dictates largely how each of their futures will develop.

Serving as a somewhat humbled character piece that centres on a small group of intertwining stories between the two conflicted families, The Burning Plain is an unassuming and dry landscape of drama. For the majority of the feature, the movie is split between three narratives, most of which take place over different timelines told in a back-and-forth manner which informs but never confuses the viewer as to where each of these characters are going, and where they have been. This multi-layered and contorted style that Arriaga implements here can obviously get a little confusing at times, yet enough care is taken to allow each of the stories to have their own breathing room. As a result, the characters which take centre stage feel nicely developed and human—something integrally important to a story such as Arriaga's. In the end, while it seems that some plot developments never seem to be heading to any sort of meeting point, there exists a sort of catharsis and closure to the movie that ties everything together nicely, but perhaps too nicely. The ending is somewhat dubious, but nevertheless feels like the logical step when taken in retrospect.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, a central theme to Arriaga's feature here is the suppression of emotion—of a cool, collected and strangely alien approach to relationships with other people. While there are plenty of moments where the director opts to balance such instances out with moments of palpable passion (most of which occur between the two burning lovers), the dominant motif here is that callous and introverted sense of misdirection and ambivalence that plays such a major part in a few of the central characters' stories. The performances then, which can be hard to grasp on to as a result, nevertheless do well to keep things human without ever sacrificing that uniquely cold tone. This isn't a feature that will immediately grasp you with its story or characters, and the performances from the cast are very much the same. Instead The Burning Plain opens up as it goes along, eventually climaxing in a series of finely performed expulsions of emotion. It is in this final act that much of Arriaga's story comes together and pieces fall into place, so it's appropriate that much of the movie's most cathartic, and warmer shades transpire here.

For The Burning Plain to truly come off the screen however, one has to feel for the characters that dominate the screenplay from the get-go, which unfortunately is not the case. While it is certainly evident that Arriaga's crafts an interesting and somewhat unique presentation to an otherwise familiar story thanks to his callous approach to much of the proceeding drama, the movie too often falls a little short of its intended destination thanks to the overly cold opening and unsurprising ending. The result is a feature which definitely succeeds in offering two hours of finely plotted drama, but which also fails at making any more of an impression. The characters are compelling in their own strange way, the narrative complicated but not to the extent that all hope is lost—for those two elements alone I could recommend The Burning Plain to viewers and that's not even taking into account the performances and imagery in twine. In the end however, Arriaga doesn't quite reach where he tries to; The Burning Plain is and enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it lacks the extra zest needed to carry it on through to something more profound and memorable.

  • A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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She was only 2 days old, I did not deserve her.
TxMike4 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Curious movie, but overall very good. It was a bit disconcerting the way it is edited, because the first 40 to 45 minutes it skips back and forth and you have to guess what period you are in, and who the characters are, and what their relationships are. But if you stick with it, all becomes clear.

Charlize Theron is Sylvia, she is the manager of a restaurant on the Pacific in Oregon. She seems very tough and very efficient, knows her foods and knows her wines. But her weakness is a promiscuous lifestyle, performed in an almost matter-of-fact way. It is as if she has a low self-esteem, in spite of being smart and pretty.

Kim Basinger is Geena, a seemingly happily married mother of several healthy children. Her husband has a job that takes him on the road often and, since her surgery for breast cancer he seems unable to make love to her as he once did.

Their oldest child is Jennifer Lawrence as Mariana, probably 17. (She was actually 17 during filming.) She loves her mother, but doesn't like her at all when she starts to suspect she might have something going on, on the side.

John Corbett (Northern Exposure's "Chris in the Morning") is John, a chef at Sylvia's restaurant, married, and having an affair with Sylvia.

This is a very good movie, with an interesting and moving story of redemption.

SPOILERS follow: First off, when all is revealed Sylvia in modern times is the grown up Mariana, 12 years later. Her promiscuity is a result of seeing her mother's affair, then being responsible for her death, and the death of her lover, a man also with a family. Mariana suspected something so on her bicycle followed her mom's car to a remote area in desert-like terrain in New Mexico, and found their love nest, an old trailer they had fixed up. She loosened the gas supply, and set fire while the two lovers were in there, to scare them out and destroy the place, but it blew up and she killed both of them. Then she started an affair with the man's son, they had a child, Mariane ran away when the child was 2 days, went to Oregon, and changed her name to Sylvia. But they eventually found her and she went to Mexico, to be reunited with her daughter and her lover, now in the hospital recuperating from an injury form a crop duster crash.

Tessa Ia who plays her 12 year old daughter Maria is cute and also a good young actress.
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5/10
A pretentious and boring film
Argemaluco23 July 2010
Do not misunderstand me...I like to see a Mexican going through the cultural barrier to infiltrate himself in the "star system" from Hollywood.I only wish that screenwriter and more recently also director Guillermo Arriaga would prove different things.He only did it once, with the excellent film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and he may back to do it in the future, but for now, his debut as a director The Burning Plain, employs his classic formula: a tremulous drama of a simple narrative unnecessarily complicated by a fragmented structure in order to simulate ingenuity and deepness...exactly the same as his previous screenplays for Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams.

I am not against the non-linear narrative style.In many occasions, it brought unusual and fascinating movies as a result (such as, for example, Pulp Fiction or Mulholland Dr.); but when the trick is an end by itself, the experience becomes into a dull march to the final revelations, where the relationships between the characters and the connections of causes and consequences are finally concreted.The problem in The Burning Plain is that those revelations can be figured out much before the screenplay deigns itself to confess them, so we only witness scene by scene of drama, betrayal and suffering, hoping for something (whatever it is) to make us get interested in the movie.And, in my case, that "something" never came, so the result was a pretentious, boring and unsatisfactory film.

However, I have to admit Arriaga could extract excellent performances from his cast.Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron made a remarkable work, and I think that José María Yazpik, Tessa Ia and Joaquim de Almeida are also worthy of applause.Their performances are so good that I wished they had better material to work with.However, I cannot recommend The Burning Plain, because I found it to be tedious from the beginning to the end.
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6/10
Human Redemption on a Smaller Plain in Arriaga's Tentative Directorial Debut
Ed Uyeshima23 August 2009
Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's big-screen collaborations with director Alejandro González Iñárritu have produced a trio of highly accomplished films - "Amores Perros", "21 Grams", and "Babel" – that juxtaposed several story lines, all tied together by characters who were damaged souls in search of redemption and connection with one another. Although the two had a very public falling-out, Arriaga still appears to be strongly influenced by his former partner's jumbled film-making style as he takes over the director's chair with this 2009 drama. The chief problem, however, is that Arriaga doesn't really show Iñárritu's passion and audacity as he attempts to pull off the considerable demands of a non-linear narrative with conviction. Moreover, Arriaga the screenwriter lets down Arriaga the director with a script that ultimately feels too predictable and contrived despite strong performances from the cast.

There looks to be four separate stories at the outset, which eventually transitions into two. The first involves Sylvia, the manager of an upscale, seaside restaurant in Portland, an extremely pained woman who prefers casual sex followed by self-inflicted punishment. She is obviously anguished over something that motivates her erratic behavior. The second thread takes place in New Mexico near the Mexican border where Gina, an unhappily married mother of four, is carrying on an affair with a local man named Nick, also married with children. The complication here is that her daughter Mariana finds out about the affair and embarks on a relationship with Nick's son Santiago. Meanwhile, in Mexico, a crop-duster plane crash-lands on an open field, as his twelve-year-old daughter Maria watches in horror.

Arriaga's fractured approach works for a little while albeit in an emotionally draining, humorless way. However, when the moment of revelation arrives (and much too early), the plot unravels into a Lifetime TV-movie level of sanctimony obscured by the fiery explosion that gives the movie its name. Proving yet again that a beautiful woman can convincingly expose the torment of a soul under fire, Charlize Theron successfully makes the nihilistic Sylvia an ultimately sympathetic figure. Kim Basinger, looking entirely too stunning and wrinkle-free at 55 to be a K-Mart-shopping housewife, manages to get to the heart of a guilt-ridden woman, even as she shows Gina going through the predictable machinations of her illicit actions.

The stand-out performance, however, comes from Jennifer Lawrence, a Jewel-look-alike, as the troubled teen Mariana, the dramatic pivot for the whole movie. Tessa Ia makes a strong impression as the pensive Maria, while the men barely make a ripple – John Corbett as a smitten sous-chef in Sylvia's restaurant, Joaquim de Almeida as the passionate Nick, José María Yazpik as the go-between Carlos, and Danny Pino as the pilot. The one exception is J.D. Pardo who plays Santiago as the impetuous Romeo to Lawrence's Juliet. Robin Tunney shows up in a smallish role as Sylvia's one true friend. Robert Elswit and John Toll share cinematography responsibilities here, and they do an excellent job capturing all the locales. At the end of the movie, I couldn't help thinking that Arriaga's yin was fundamentally missing Iñárritu's yang.
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6/10
Interesting story but technically incoherent
yuwei-lin16 April 2009
The pace of the film (probably due to poor editing) is inconsistent. The first half of the film is engrossing, but the second half can be easily predicted. A lot of scenes of the second half can be edited out. Apart from the poor editing, the story itself and the way the story was told are intriguing. The film is women centric and portrays many issues concerning women: breast cancer, housework/chores, mother-daughter relationship, postnatal depression etc.. Charlize Theron suits the leading role particularly after her outstanding performance in the film Monster. But there again exists inconsistency of her appearance in the film (probably due to make-up/lighting filming) - sometimes she appears younger and sometimes older. It's understandable as the director's debut, but I think the director needs to work harder in order to coherently deliver an engaging and technically sound film.
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8/10
Mournful and yet seductive drama.
Michael O'Keefe23 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga makes his directorial debut with this sometimes disjointed drama piecing together a web of three love stories that interconnect. Charlize Theron plays a sex craving woman troubled by her past. Kim Basinger is cast as a depressed housewife that needs a torrid adulterous affair to seek completeness. Jennifer Lawrence and J.D. Prado are a couple of teens that enter a forbidden relationship in trying to mourn while trying to understand the horrific death of their parents. If you are already depressed...shy away. You must really devote your attention to this one; but if you get lost the finale will answer any questions. After seeing Miss Lawrence in POKER HOUSE and WINTER'S BONE, I just couldn't pass this film up. No disappointment from where I sit. This movie is not recommended for children. The supporting cast includes: Robin Tunney, Joaquim de Almeida, Jose Maria Yazpik, Tessa La, Danny Pino and John Corbett.
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7/10
See it for the cast
dbborroughs14 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Charlize Theron and Kim Bassinger headline a film written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote Babel, 3 Burials of Melquides Estrada and 21 Grams, three films who's appeal has eluded me. The time tripping movie has Theron dealing with events in the past and how they effect her present. Beautifully acted by all concerned this is possibly the best ensemble cast I've seen in a long while with everyone concerned disappearing into their roles. The problem is that as compelling as the performances and the sequences are I kind of stopped caring as to what was going on about a half an hour in, don't get me wrong its not that there is anything wrong with it, there's not, its just that the film, like the films I mentioned earlier that were written by the writer/director, is needlessly obtuse. I have no problem working with a film, but I was a good way in before I started to piece who was who and what was when, yes there are clues, cars for example, but at the same time not enough. Yes its great to have an adult film, but at it seems to be trying a bit too hard. My reservations aside, the film is worth a look if you want to see some great acting this is a must see.

Between 6 and 7 out of 10

----- Addendum thinking about the film over the past couple of months I find its stayed with me more than other "better films" so I've added a star. between 7 and 8 out of 10
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10/10
Mothers and Daughters: Needs
gradyharp20 September 2009
BURNING PLAIN is far more than a successful movie, it is an art work on celluloid that holds the viewer's attention and plays with the mind and emotions in a way that few other films have succeeded. Guillermo Arriaga has written another intelligent, cleverly paced walk through a maze that ultimately leads to finding all of the handsomely carved pieces of a puzzle that fit together so well it defies improvement. Known for other brilliant scripts ('Amores Perros', '21 Grams', 'Babel') this script he elects to direct with a cast of actors providing extraordinary performances. If this film doesn't win in every category of the Oscars this year.....

The film has been given the tagline 'Love heals. Love absolves. Love burns.' The story, told in fragments of times past and times present, explores the lives of four women whose relationships are part of the secret the film reveals: Kim Bassinger is Gina, a married woman with children, including a perceptive and damaged daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence), who has survived the mutilation of breast cancer and finds desperately needed love in the arms of Nick (Joaquim de Almeida), a clandestine love affair that takes place in a deserted trailer house in the outskirts of Las Cruces, NM. Charlize Theron (Sylvia) is the manager of a classy restaurant in Oregon who soothes past bruises with numerous superficial liaisons, one being with her chef (John Corbett). Maria (Tessa la) is a young girl living in Mexico with her father Santiago (Danny Pino) and his co-worker and friend Carlos (José María Yazpik). Each of these four women - Gina, Sylvia, Mariana, and Maria - is complexly tied to the others. The match that ignites the story is a fire that ends the lives of Gina and Nick, and after this tragedy the children of the two lovers - Mariana and young Santiago (J.D. Pardo) - bond and provide further fodder for the development of the ending of the story. To say more would destroy the tense, beautifully hewn script's conclusion. All is not as it seems until Arriaga pastes the pieces of the conundrum together.

The cast is first rate, with Bassinger and Theron offering some of their finest work to date. The cinematography (Robert Elswit, John Toll), the music score (Omar Rodriguez-Lopez), the careful editing (Craig Wood) and the casting (Debra Zane) all are first class. Once again Guillermo has proved his gifts as an artist - both as a writer and now as a director. One of the finest films of the year.

Grady Harp
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8/10
People
kosmasp20 September 2009
If you watch this movie and "Babel" comes to your mind, you are not that wrong. As with the movie "Babel", you have a very complex story line, in which many people in different places seem to be somehow connected.

The end is not the biggest reveal I guess and if you stay with the movie you will see it coming, but that's not that important. What is important, is that you have great actors and a structure that keeps you on the edge. Even when/after you guessed the "twist". So the road is a much more rewarding experience than the goal it reaches. Keep that in mind and you will enjoy the movie.
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How Absurd is the Casting in this Movie?
gsandra6143 September 2011
Who in the world could picture either Charlize Theron or Kim Bassinger being involved with the scruffy-looking men they are cast opposite in this horrible film?

John Corbett as a cook? It's laughable.

This is the worst example of casting I've ever seen. Whatever possessed these acclaimed actors and actresses to get involved in this contrived soap opera?

Don't waste your time on this tripe. It's just awful to watch it. The plot and situations are stilted and forced. Kim Bassinger making love to a grizzled old guy in a single-wide squalid trailer? It's just unbelievable to think that this film was actually produced and released.
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6/10
Satisfying but not spectacular film
jameswilliams78411 September 2012
This is a strange movie. If your a fan of the Babel or other work by Guillermo Arriaga, then you will be satisfied with this movie. If your a fan of Charlise Theron then you be satisfied with this movie. If your looking for a gripping drama about how a tragedy affects the lives of different people you will be satisfied. However, if you looking for a good intense drama, this movie will leave you unsatisfied unless you can get over the very disjointed beginning and follow the movie to the end.

I think you have to be familiar with Arriaga's films to really like this movie. He weaves stories together without any thought of a time line and it can make a movie seem very strange. However, if you will follow this movie to the end, it is a good movie. The Acting especially by Theron is outstanding. Give this movie a chance and its enjoyable. Not a masterpiece, but enjoyable.
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7/10
It's amazing how one thing can make all the difference
MBunge29 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This is a quiet, leisurely film about the tragedies that unite and divide two families over three generations in the American Southwest. It's the sort of deeply serious drama where the audience is told more through the actors' expressions and tone than through any bit of dialog. That also means The Burning Plain is the sort of movie that bores many people to tears. I am usually one of those viewers left weary and fatigued but not this time. Partly that's due to some non-liner storytelling that avoids pretension and trying too hard to be clever. Mostly it's because Charlize Theron gets buck naked.

Yes, I realize that's a fairly crude and crass reaction. It also happens to be true for me and, I would guess, it would also be true for other folks who normally can't stand this kind of tale. The beautiful Miss Theron is completely nude at the very beginning and then gets topless before the film is halfway over. The nudity being non-gratuitous, actually showing us something important about Theron's character each time, certainly elevates the experience. Regardless, if she hadn't taken it off, I probably would have spent most of this movie annoyed and waiting for it to end. By so immediately grabbing my attention and then doing it again, I was pulled into this very human conflict more effectively than a billion fancy words or a rainbow of histrionic performances every could. The whole point of telling a story is to engage the audience and it's not always necessary, wise or even appropriate to do that exclusively at the highest level.

It also helps that none of the characters in The Burning Plain are annoying or aggressively foisted on the viewer. Mostly in silence and sometimes in action, they're allowed to unspool on the screen with each scene taking you further and further into who and what they are. But it's mostly Theron taking her clothes off.

This motion picture jumps back and forth among three different time periods and three sets of characters. There's Gina (Kim Basinger), a desperately unhappy woman who slinks away from her husband and children to the arms of Nick (Joaquim De Almeida), a similarly adulterous husband and father who is consumed with unconditional passion for her. Things move ahead in time a bit to Gina's daughter Marianna (Jennifer Lawrence) and Nick's son Santiago (JD Pardo), who find their souls intertwined after violent death shatters both of their families. Many years after that, there's Sylvia (Charlize Theron), an emotionally wounded woman who self-medicates with joyless promiscuity and Maria (Tessa Ia), a young Mexican girl who sees her cropduster father crash in front of her eyes and is taken on a journey to find the mother she's never known.

Now, if you pay any attention at all, you'll quickly figure out how all these people fit together, where their lives are going and how they'll get there. Fortunately, experiencing the voyage is more important that arriving at the destination. The Burning Plain isn't about watching a plot unfold. It's about recognizing other human beings in moments of pain, joy, selfishness, nobility and fear. You hope these people get a happy ending the way you want one for yourself.

In addition to baring it all, and once again demonstrating the principle of Producer Self-Nudity, Theron is marvelous as a profoundly sad woman who deadens herself with sex and almost can't stand it when she must acknowledge her own feelings. Kim Basinger is equally wonderful as an equally sad woman who finds not anesthesia but liberation in her affair. Jennifer Lawrence and JD Pardo are also captivating as two teenagers whose unprocessed anger propels them forward when they don't have any idea what they're doing.

The Burning Plain isn't for those who want something quick and loud and distracting. If you're looking to ruminate for a while, this isn't a bad object to focus on. And that's not a reference to Theron's bosom.
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7/10
The performances stand on their own merits, providing interesting, conflicted characters who continue to suffer because of their choices and their desire to be loved
Likes_Ninjas9027 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Burning Plain presents three very different women living in the USA and in Mexico. The first is Sylvia (Charlize Theron), who works in a restaurant and is having an affair with her married co-worker. They have casual, passionless sex but he does not want her talking to other men. The other two women are Gina (Kim Basinger) and her daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence). Gina, who has recovered from breast cancer, is married but is still having an affair with a Mexican man. Mariana finds herself particularly responsible for looking after her siblings but she is also continuously suspicious of her mother and is determined to find out what she is doing. Mariana also forms her own romance with a Mexican boy, despite the objection of his friends and family. In addition to these women the film also focuses on a Mexican crop duster and his daughter Maria (Tessa Ia), who works in the fields with him. Her life is turned upside down when his plane crashes and he is left in the hospital with a leg injury.

For almost a decade Guillermo Arriaga has been a consistently prolific screenwriter, involved with mature, adult cinema that centers on the fragments of time and place. His collaboration with Tommy Lee Jones on the film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, as well as his partnership with director Alejandro González Iñárritu through the pictures Babel and 21 Grams, represents his most noted efforts. After having a disagreement with Iñárritu though Arriaga insisted on writing and directing The Burning Plain himself. As with his previous works, this is a slow burning and sometimes confronting film but the separation in time however has not been made as obvious as it was in the past. It is difficult to discuss this without revealing the way that these seemingly disjointed and unrelated stories connect. Initially it seems as though there are too many characters and stories, obstructing the audience's accessibility to the most interesting portions of the film with Sylvia. By the end, the stories do intersect and relate in a deeply personal manner, revealing how the past can haunt and shape the present. Perhaps on a second viewing it would be a much more rewarding film in having a greater understanding of where these characters came from and how they grew from the mistakes of their past.

The heart of this film is the contrast between two women, Syliva and Gina, who are both searching for happiness in the most irresponsible and selfish manner. Sylvia remains content with exposing herself to almost anyone in a pursuit to find some kind of connection or physical relationship. Her affair with her co-worker is followed by a brief encounter with a client and then her failed attempt to seduce a man who simply offers her a ride home in his car. By contrast, Gina is a much more secretive and tentative individual, still unhappy with the life she has managed to hold onto. Her reluctant exposure of her scar from where her breast was demonstrates her discomfort with herself and proves to be one of the more painful scenes, throughout what is a particularly moving film. Some may only realise the connection between these two characters by the end, but it at least justifies their commonalities, as much as their differences. Charlize Theron is particularly touching as Sylvia, who grows from considering all means of escaping her past, to realising that she must take responsibility for the choices she has made. Theron skilfully presents Sylvia as a charming employee, but contrasts this with vulnerability as she stands on the edge of a cliff or strips down to physically and emotionally reveals who she really is. As the fragile Gina, Basing is also impressive, conveying the emotions of being caught in a largely joyless marriage, as well as the temporary happiness and suspense of having an affair.

Although it commences in a convoluted and perhaps frustrating manner, The Burning Plain is a rare film that would greatly benefit from a second viewing. With the knowledge of the revelations at hand one might be able to see how these various stories have influenced each other in a more complete way. Regardless of the issues with time though, the performances stand on their own merits, providing interesting, conflicted characters who continue to suffer because of their choices and their desire to be loved.
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8/10
The scars we carry
dave-sturm1 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This movie can be criticized from a dozen directions. It's a little hard to follow at the beginning. It jumps around in time. The story threads we are asked to follow seem unconnected.

But if any movie rewards patience (a cliché, I know, but true in this case), it's The Burning Plain.

The movie has a big secret that becomes apparent gradually about halfway through. At first, what we are watching seems to be happening concurrently. The revelation is that some scenes are about two decades apart.

We are watching, in some cases, we learn, the teenage and adult versions of the same people played by different actors/actresses at different points in the characters' lives.

Once this dawns on us, the movie becomes totally engrossing.

The basic plot is simple. Two families, one American and one Mexican, become linked by an adulterous relationship. There is a tragic fire causing two deaths. And it's not an accident.

Recriminations. Bitterness. Hatred. Years and years worth of ugly feelings. These two families hate each other. Yet, there's these two teenagers, one from each family. They find each other. Sound familiar?

Charlize Theron carries this movie all the way to the last scene. Kim Basinger, playing the adulterous mom, is also poignant. There's a scene where she reluctantly displays her breast cancer scar and her lover kisses it. Puddle city, boys and girls.

I docked this movie a point for a totally gratuitous nude scene that doesn't even make sense, plot-wise. Who tries to seduce a stalker?

I am not that savvy about Mexican film-makers and I gather this is the product of a team of young Mexican writers and helmers. All I have to say is, go for it guys! Let's see some more.
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