The Burning Plain
Oh, honey! Propane! Now this trailer’s the perfect adultery abode!

Golden Mug

Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)

Theatrical Release Date: 09/18/2009
Director: Guillermo Arriaga
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence, José María Yazpik, Joaquim de Almeida, Tessa la, J.D. Pardo, Danny Pino, John Corbett, Brett Cullen, Robin Tunney

There are some filmmakers so distinctive that putting their names in the credits is little more than window dressing. Tarantino (quick paced filthy dialogue, converging story lines), Spielberg (static shots of people looking at something off camera), Bay (rotating camera around hero figures, glossy look with shallow substance), the list goes on and on.

Foreign and independent film fans know Guillermo Arriaga’s name quite well by now. Whether it’s “Amores Perros”, “Babel“, “21 Grams” or “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada“, audiences can be sure about a few key elements when it comes to his scripts.

First, the film will involve three main groups of characters. Second, their lives are all connected in some manner. Third, the story will be told in a non-linear fashion. For better or worse (I’ll get back to this shortly), these elements hold true for “The Burning Plain”. Written (and this time directed) by Arriaga, the film is built as a showcase for three (I would say four) actresses, all of whom are at the heart of the matter. Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence and Tessa la are thrust into making difficult decisions, all thanks to Basinger’s marital indiscretion.

The entire ensemble deliver excellent performances, buoyed by a tragedy heavy script and Arriaga’s methodical (and at times glacial) pacing. Theron and Basinger’s turns match up to expectations but little more. The real standouts are the two younger actresses, Lawrence and la. Each are tasked with bearing the burdens of their mothers’ shortcomings and are the focal point of the audience’s sympathy. Lawrence especially, delivers an award nomination worthy performance and is an actress whose star could be on the rise (choose your roles wisely Jennifer).

On the negative side, the cinematography seemed a little subdued and muddled to me. Also, the ending could have been made much more of a conversation piece had Arriaga not chosen to show audiences what one of the character chooses to do right before the credits start rolling. Sure, an argument could be made that many people prefer to see the filmmaker’s vision of the ending but I always prefer a bit of indecision. If you’ve crafted the film well enough (and Arriaga did a decent job here), audiences can make up their own mind as to how characters will decide to move forward.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. While I’m very much over Arriaga’s predictable story structure, he does know how to do it effectively and had I not seen his previous works I wouldn’t be so perturbed. Thanks in large part to Lawrence’s strong performance, I’m going to give “The Burning Plain” an extra point – 4 out of 5. This will be an interesting one to rewatch after some time has gone by, to see if being a little bit older will allow for a new perspective on the actions of the characters.