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The Burning Plain
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Reviewed on 2009-10-24
Received[3]  out of 4 stars
GenreCrime / Drama / Romance
Academy Award-winning actresses Charlize Theron (“Monster” and “North Country”) and Kim Basinger (“L.A. Confidential”) headline this mysterious melodrama that intricately weaves four story strands of smoldering passion and steamy love affairs, but never appear on screen together.

This marks the directorial debut of Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote the screenplay. He is no stranger to multiple narratives with a film pedigree that includes “21 Grams,” “Babel,” “Amores Perros” and “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.”

Mother-daughter relationships are at the core of the fragmented approach that spans time and distance. Four strong women representing three generations are at the forefront of morality tales brimming with symbolic clues.

Arriaga simultaneously juggles each separate scenario and takes viewers on a powerful and beautifully rendered emotional journey. He wisely allocates just the right amount of time and information to hold your interest.

The movie’s title stems from an opening shot of the fiery explosion of a trailer home in the New Mexico desert. The how and why of this terrible tragedy is the catalyst for the various plotlines.

A brooding and troubled restaurant manager, Sylvia (Theron), is having an adulterous affair with one of her married cooks (John Corbett from “Sex and the City” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) in Portland, Ore. Meanwhile, in a Mexican border town, a young girl, Maria (Tessa Ia), accompanies her crop-dusting father and his best friend Carlos to a neighboring ranch. A crash landing sends her dad to the hospital. Maria and Carlos embark on a search for her missing biological mother who abandoned her father a few days after she was born. Gina (Basinger) is a wife and mother struggling to overcome the devastating consequences of breast cancer. Her husband no longer looks at her the same way sexually. She enters into a steamy secretive tryst with a Hispanic married man who shows her a tenderness she desperately desires. Two teenagers, Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Sebastian (J.D. Pardo), experience forbidden love in the aftermath of the sudden death of her mother and his father.

Theron continues her string of terrific and daring thespian performances. She lays bare her body and soul in this unforgettable heartbreaking turn. Basinger is great in a key supporting role. This is a launching pad for Lawrence, whose star should rise to future celebrity status. Ia shows a lot of poise embodying a crucial piece of this tangled web of frustration, forgiveness and redemption.

Other strengths of the movie include: the splendid cinematography by Academy Award winners Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood” and “Good Night, and Good Luck”) and John Toll (“Braveheart” and “Legends of the Fall”), who contrast the desert landscape with the seaside Oregon coast, utilizing gold versus blue hues; an admirable editing job of seamless transitions by Craig Wood (“Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy) and the haunting musical score composed by Hans Zimmer (“The Dark Knight’ and “Gladiator”) and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.

Robin Tunney of “The Mentalist” is a familiar face in the supporting cast playing a close friend and confidant of Sylvia.

This movie challenges you to uncover the past and put the pieces of the soap opera jigsaw puzzle back together. It brings to mind “Random Hearts” (1999) starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas, who discover after a commercial airliner crash that their respective spouses were having an affair.

Certain portions of the dialogue are in Spanish with English subtitles. Now showing exclusively for a limited engagement at the Leawood in Overland Park.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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