The Burning Plain (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner12/03/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Beautifully shot, emotionally engaging drama with a great script and terrific performances from Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger and newcomer Jennifer Lawrence.

What's it all about?
The directorial debut of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (who wrote Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Three Burials and Babel), The Burning Plain stars Charlize Theron as Sylvia, a beautiful restaurant manager in rainy Portland, Oregon, who's having an affair with her married employee (John Corbett). Her story is intercut with several seemingly disconnected desert scenes in which: a young girl (Tessa Ia) lives happily with her crop-dusting father (Danny Pino) and his best friend (Jose Maria Yazpik), until a tragic accident changes everything; a married mother of three (Kim Basinger) begins a passionate affair with a Mexican father (Joaquim De Almeida); and two teenagers (Jennifer Lawrence and JD Pardo) find love in the aftermath of their parents' sudden deaths.

The Good
In Arriaga's trademarked style, timelines are fractured and key events take place out of sequence, so your enjoyment of The Burning Plain will largely depend on how quickly you put all the pieces together. In addition, the script deals with powerful themes of guilt, forbidden love, facing up to responsibility and coming of age, whilst refusing to offer the easy emotional pay-offs you might be expecting.

The performances are fantastic. Charlize Theron imbues Sylvia with a haunted quality that is disturbingly cold at times, whilst Basinger has never been better as Gina, displaying a wounded vulnerability that is often painful to watch. Similarly, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence more than holds her own against Theron and Basinger and there's strong support from Brett Cullen (as Basinger's husband), Jose Maria Yazpik and Joaquim De Almeida, who has powerful and believable chemistry with Basinger.

The Great
The film is beautifully shot throughout; thanks to a quirk of fate, Arriaga used a separate cinematographer (John Toll) for the rainy Portland scenes, while Robert Elswit handled the desert sequences and the contrast pays off beautifully.

Worth seeing?
The Burning Plain is an engaging, beautifully shot and powerfully emotional drama with a strong script and superb performances. Recommended.

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The Burning Plain (15)
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Content updated: 15/12/2017 06:15

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