Director: Guillermo Arriaga Release date: 24 August Review by Adam Tobias If you ask me, screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga should think about changing the structure of his scripts in the future because his work is getting a tad bit trite and soporific. Arriaga, who’s collaborated with director Alejandro González Iñárritu on such films as Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros, is probably most famous for penning screenplays with interwoven story lines that jump back and forth chronologically and follow several flawed characters who are struggling with deep, emotional issues. His movies may be confusing at first because it’s difficult to tell what’s going on, but eventually the stories of his characters intersect in some sort of way and by the end everything is wrapped up so you are no longer left scratching your head. Filmmakers have been using this style for decades (it has become even more popular since the release of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in 1994) and if it’s done right it can result in some rather intriguing movies. But if it’s done wrong, the whole disjointed narrative routine can come off as pretentious and self-indulgent, and that’s exactly what’s happened with Arriaga’s latest feature, The Burning Plain, in which he also makes his directorial debut. The Burning Plain is missing a surprising and compelling story that packs an emotional punch, so Arriaga uses his signature style to distract you in the same way a magician would use the old sleight of hand practice. The Burning Plain tackles themes and subjects that are extremely commonplace and I think all of us already know bad decisions can affect you for the rest of your life, and the film doesn’t really shed any new light on the matter. If told in an interesting way, The Burning Plain maybe could have turned out to be a powerful film, but Arriaga’s stylistic approach actually leads to all of the dramatics feeling forced, which makes it especially challenging to care for and connect with the characters. (It also doesn’t help much that mostly everyone is about as likable as Fred Phelps.) Because one of Arriaga’s goals with The Burning Plain is to leave you guessing until the end, I’ll be as vague about the plot as I possibly can for the sake of not ruining your viewing experience. Sylvia, played by Academy Award winner Charlize Theron (Monster and Hancock), is the manager of a classy Oregon restaurant who deals with her nasty inner demons by sleeping with any man who has a pulse and cutting her thighs with sharp stones. A mysterious Mexican man (Jose Maria Yazpik) is perpetually following her around wherever she goes, but his intentions have nothing to do with trying to get her in the sack. Meanwhile, in the New Mexico border town of Las Cruces, Gina (Kim Basinger), a married mother of four, is constantly sneaking off to a trailer home in the middle of nowhere to have a passionate affair with Nick (Joaquim de Almeida), who is also married with children. And one of those children is the teenage Santiago (JD Pardo), who is smitten with Gina’s blond-haired daughter, Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence). And finally, a young, motherless girl named Maria (Tessa Ia) who lives in Mexico with her crop-dusting father and his best friend is faced with overwhelming obstacles when a catastrophic accident changes her entire life. Although The Burning Plain suffers from a weak narrative and the jumping through place and time, the film does include some exceptional performances, most notably from Lawrence, who plays the daughter on TV’s The Bill Engvall Show, and Theron, who has mastered portraying a cold and distant persona. The Burning Plain is also enhanced by cinematographers Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton and John Toll (Braveheart and Legends of the Fall) — the latter shot the bluish-toned Oregon scenes and the former was responsible for the remaining portion of the movie — who have captured some of our country’s most beautiful landscapes. All of the settings are bursting with vivid colors and great detail, and even if you get bored with the story you should have a hard time pulling your eyes from screen. But even still, The Burning Plain should be viewed as a disappointment for first-time director Guillermo Arriaga. This film just reinforces that sometimes you need to add a little substance to that style. Rating:5/10