The Burning Plain

In The Burning Plain, writer/director Guillermo Arriaga once again takes a handful of seemingly separate stories and weaves them together ever-so-gradually (like Amores Perros and 21 Grams), playing with time and place, as he is wont to do. And, once again, the majority of these people are miserable and are hard to cuddle up with.

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance

Director: Guillermo Arriaga

Actors: Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence, Joaquim de Almeida

Year: 2008

MPAA Rating: R

Country: United States

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Take Sylvia (Charlize Theron) for instance. We first meet her as she wakes up in bed with a man and immediately dismisses him. Naked, she walks to the window and looks out just as a couple of kids and their mothers are walking by. Now, Charlize is one gorgeous woman, everyone knows that. But this moment is not sexy at all. She is cold and distant, and her bed partner is disgruntled with his dismissal. Turns out he is a co-worker (John Corbett), a chef at the restaurant that she manages. He wants something she can’t give, and she will commit to nothing. She’s messed up, despite her glamorous appearance as she hosts the rich and famous who dine at her restaurant.

Then there’s Gina (Kim Basinger), who is also gorgeous but is sneaking around on her impotent and mostly absent husband, leaving the kids to take care of themselves while she meets her lover off in the desert in a rickety love-den of a trailer. In fact, they are the only two really happy people in the film, but of course they are both miserable as well, since they are both married to others. Ah, well.

Then there is a single-dad Santiago (Danny Pino) who is a sharecropper in Mexico, flying planes to dust crops for farmers. His adoring 12-year old daughter Maria (Tessa Ia) tags along with him and his business partner Carlos (José María Yazpik). One day though, there is an accident, and Carlos goes in search of Maria’s missing mother while Santiago teeters in the hospital.

There’s more than that, of course, and everything is tied to the opening image of the trailer burning in the desert. Two people died in the trailer, and all the stories eventually tie together. However, once you see the multiple storylines, you kinda figure this. Once you know what the story is up to, and you’ve already solved a couple of mysteries before the plot has gotten around to it, you start to realize the movie is kind of plodding.

None of the characters in The Burning Plain are really warm–there’s no one to really cozy up to or root for–despite the fact that the acting is good to very good (I am still constantly surprised how much I’ve liked Kim Basinger the last few years). Yes, humans are flawed, and some are very flawed, but does Guillermo Arriaga even believe that there is such a thing as happiness? I think not, because then he wouldn’t have anything to write about.

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