Director Guillermo Arriaga, unable to create any suspense in any given scene of full frontal character conflicts; Actress Charlize Theron strives through the scenes uninspired to sedated, just dwelling from early hard knock life experiences, at no moment challenged by the director to break through with her character of Sylvia to step on uncharted territory of psychological terror after a girl's life changing mother-murdering incident.
The well-written screen-story gets hardly translated to screen, lingering in too slow, if not to say insufficient shot pacing, wasting Robert Elswit's talents as Cinematographer. Director Guillermo Arriaga, seemingly uncomfortable in the director's chair, focuses on scenes on female self-mutilation and further draining from his characters' obsessions and sex addictions. The visuals, embedded in an U.S. Mexican Border Town and cold steel urban area cliché, misses surprises to release the spectator's running low interest in the female fates.
Positively to mention is the on-screen chemistry of Kim Basinger & Joaquim de Almeida, who left on their own to create a heart-breaking, doomed to fail love story. Actress Jennifer Lawrence, in her Pre- "Winter Bone" (2010) days, seems to be overwhelmed, undirected by Guillermo Arriaga and close to lost by her on-screen actions in the character of Mariana of murdering mother and her lover in a trailer gas explosion.
When the incident scene happens at running time marker 01h21mins00sec (PAL version), Director Guillerma Arriaga missed out to build an accelerating sequence with Editor Craig Wood to make an emotional impact for an arresting conclusion of woman's life wasted. Probably solution might have been to rearrange the editorial's structure entirely with taking the incident into the film's opening, which would have brought Jennifer Lawrence arguably a breakthrough performance under improved directions to carry an entire picture of her shoulders at an minor age; A fact that needed to mature another two years until her breakthrough at Sundance Film Festival 2010 with her leading role in "Winter's Bone".
In conclusion, "The Burning Plain" had the ingredients to be a solid psychological drama. But through lack of thriller elements, with a cast put into breathtaking tension mode and accelerated action beats, lets the film vanish into mediocrity.