Monday, July 23, 2012

The Burning Plain

By Sati. Monday, July 23, 2012 , , , , , , ,
65/100 (107 min, 2008)
Plot: A drama with a two-tiered storyline concerning a mother and daughter who try to form a bond after the young woman's difficult childhood.
Director: Guillermo Arriaga
Writer: Guillermo Arriaga
Stars: Charlize Theron, Kim Basigner and Jennifer Lawrence

Love heals. Love absolves. Love burns.

If you are a movie fan you are probably familiar with the name Guillermo Arriaga. He is the guy who wrote scripts for many great Alejandro González Iñárritu's movies including Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams. The Burning Plain is his feature film directorial debut and it really shows his lack in experience when it comes to directing. While the story has many strong points and well written characters, the script is too chaotic. However what ultimately drags the movie down is the execution of that script .

To summarize the plot would be an impossible task - we watch three different women - Sylvia, (fantastic Theron) successful but self-destructive woman who hides her regrets and anger by engaging in casual sex, often with men she barely knows, Gina (Kim Basigner) who has recently beaten breast cancer and now finds herself engaged in an affair with a man, while at the same time pulling away from her husband and her daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) who sees her mother actions and doesn't understand them.
The trademark of Arriaga's scripts is the whole variety of characters who are always connected in some meaningful way and the distorted chronology in showing the events. While it usually worked in Inarittu's movies, here it is just annoying and while the big twist may be surprising - though that surprise comes from strange casting decision - the unnecessarily convoluted plot isn't very impressive. It's like this - non-linear narrative works if there is some bigger purpose for using that storytelling device and if it adds something meaningful to the film itself. Here it is just gimmickry that is unsuccessfully trying to cover up how thin the story really is.

While there are strong emotions, painful mistakes and heavy hearts everywhere in this story the impact of them, apart from Sylvia's story, comes to us only in the ending montage which was fantastic. The rest of the film is too messy for us to have any real connection with the characters, even if the actors are trying their hardest. That is everyone but John Corbett who in addition to being a complete miscast is as usual painfully bland. The problem is also the pacing - some scenes go on for way too long, while some are cut much too soon.
While Gina and Mariana's stories are interesting and well acted, it is Sylvia who is the most fascinating character in the film. Had the story just focused on her and Arriaga minimized the other elements to tiny, flashback scenes or parallel scenes it would be fine. But whenever Theron disappears from screen the film loses its greatest asset. While the film is in no way groundbreaking and certainly nothing new, her performance is truly wonderful and the film itself is worth seeing just to see her work.

Right after Theron, the film's biggest advantage is the truly beautiful cinematography - the stories have different color themes - Sylvia's scenes are shot in blue to show her sadness and the darkness she lives in, while igniting passion between Gina and her lover and Mariana's youth and naivety are colored with yellow. The frames are beautifully composed, especially when it comes to Sylvia's story when we frequently see the sea, rain and stormy clouds, making it seem almost as if the entire world was a burden for her to handle.
When I was watching the film I couldn't help but have this impression that this was originally meant to be one of the story arcs in Inarittu's films but Arriaga decided to stretch the story so much he will be able to shoot his own movie based on that plot. That definitely shows, as there are many long and unnecessary scenes and at times the only thing that is keeping us going is the desire to find out why Sylvia is the way she is.

There is a bit of tension added to Gina and Mariana's story but to go any further would be spoiling the movie. As much as I enjoy seeing Basigner on screen and Lawrence is very impressive (this film precedes her Oscar nominated work in Winter's Bone) their story lacks substance - both when it comes to the events and to the character's motives for doing what they do. Still, the film is beautifully shot and Theron alone is able to carry it. The trouble is she is required to do so, because of the weakness of the script and inexperienced director.

16 comments:

  1. The screenplay was one of the reasons why I didn't like this film. It tried to be a lot of things and I kind of knew what was going to happen. I felt Arriaga didn't take enough risks with the story and didn't do enough to conceal things better. I liked Charlize and Jennifer Lawrence but the script really pissed me off. As someone who does write screenplays (though not often as I have writer's block for the time being), I see that film and say, "don't do that."

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    1. Yeah, it was quite a mess. There were some great ideas and a lot of potential but in the end only a little worked.

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  2. Wow, look at the female cast here, three beautiful, talented Blonds!

    I didn't even know about this film Sati, thanks for making me aware of it!

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    1. The cast was gorgeous indeed! Charlize was naked again too :)

      If you like the actresses you should enjoy this one.

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    2. Haha, yeah it is quite breathtaking :)

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  3. Great review. I've been wanting to see this for ages. Given the actors involved and those beautiful shots, I guess I need to see this soon.

    Also, does that poster remind anyone else of the one for Munich?

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    1. It totally does, the posters are very similiar!

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  4. Very good as always, Sati.

    Now, the promiscuity angle has my junior high interests grasped firmly, but as I was reading this I was wondering...is Theron's story that much more interesting than the Basinger/Lawrence bit...or is just your adoration of Theron?

    !

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    1. Thank you!

      It really is much more interesting and she gives the best performance out of three. Lawrence and Basigner do a good job, but their characters aren't as well written as Charlize's.

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  5. Great review! This sounds like a movie I'd probably enjoy, despite the inexperienced direction. I also enjoyed your observations about the use of color in this film.

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    1. Thank you! The film is not the best but I think it's worth seeing!

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  6. I knew I'd heard of Arriaga before - now I know. I think Babel is one of the greatest films ever made, so I'm dead keen to watch this one, where he's directed instead of just being credited for the script.....even if you think he's made a bit of a fist of it.

    And I'm also in a bit of a Theron funk these days, and will watch anything she's in (even Reindeer Games.... urgh) to sate my compulsion!!

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    1. Babel was fantastic, I feel it is quite underrated despite many Oscar nods.

      Me too, i recently saw about 10 movies with her, she is so amazing. You should also check North Country, for me it's her second best performance after Monster.

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  7. For me, the reason to see this film is Jennifer Lawrence's performance. It was the first thing I ever saw her in and I was impressed. Because of this I was actually interested in her story arc more than Theron's.

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    1. She really showed she has talent here. I think her story was interesting but for some reason I didn't connect with her character as much as with Theron's.

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