Sex and fire unite in The Burning Plain, a 2009 drama by writer/director Guillermo Arriaga. Though it received little promotion during its release period, the Charlize Theron-starring film is a surprisingly engaging little film. The Burning Plain isn't amazing, but it is worth seeing.
In the movie, we are presented with restaurant manager Sylvia (Charlize Theron), a woman who deals with her endless depression by sleeping with random men and cutting herself. Other than the cutting part, she sounds like a winner. When a mysterious Mexican shows up with ties to her past, it forces her to recollect her teenage years, which features her mother (Kim Basinger) having an affair with a guy who lives in a trailer (Joaquim de Almeida).
The Burning Plain is told in dual timelines, one with Theron trying to deal with her issues in modern day, the other her younger self (played by Jennifer Lawrence) as she finds love for the first time. Interestingly enough, the scenes with Theron - even though she gets naked - aren't nearly as captivating as those featuring the younger actors. A day after watching the movie, not a single scene from the Theron segments remains in memory, but several from the Lawrence ones do. In other words, Theron is upstaged by a no-name.
Then again, the acting is not the issue (and yet the lack of powerful performances is). Neither Theron nor Basinger, the two biggest names in the film, are particularly great, but neither is the younger cast, either. The movie just doesn't ask for it. The Burning Plain relies more heavily on its plot and the "twist" at the end, which, frankly, is pretty shocking and disturbing. Still, its lack of explosive performances either is a result of or evidence to the fact that The Burning Plain is lacking something that would take it to the next level.
Nevertheless, The Burning Plain is an easily watchable and at times engaging picture. Its unique trajectory works well, though it could have been so much more had a little more emphasis been placed on the performances. Recommended for those looking for something off the beaten path.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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