The Burning Plain (2008)


The Burning Plain Storyline

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.

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The Burning Plain Movie Reviews

Forced and forceful, gradually makes sense and gets to you…give it time

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.

complex story revealing itself gradually

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.

time jumbo

The movie is told in a non-linear time jumbo. Sylvia (Charlize Theron) runs a high class restaurant with friend Laura (Robin Tunney). She is emotionally damaged and has non-committal sex with strangers. Her boyfriend John (John Corbett) is furious. She gets a ride from Carlos. Carlos has been looking for her but he doesn’t speak English. He has brought her abandoned daughter Maria. In a desert New Mexico town, Gina (Kim Basinger) is having an affair with Nick Martinez (Joaquim de Almeida). Her daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) finds out and their love-nest trailer explodes in flames killing both. Mariana and Nick’s son Carlos (José María Yazpik) begin a relationship.

The time jumbo doesn’t help the lack of tension. Sylvia’s nihilist existence has some intrigue but the jumping around highlights the search for connections between the different periods more than advance the character study. There is a mystery twist but that requires Theron and Lawrence to be the same. It’s not a failure but it is a stretch. I doubt she got plastic surgery. The story may be more compelling told in a straight forward timeline.