The Burning Plain - Kim Basinger’s Gina & Joaquim de Almeida’s Nick conduct an illicit affair

Best known for his screenplays for his compatriot Alejandro González Iñárritu. Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga makes his directorial debut with this characteristically elliptical mystery drama. If you’ve seen Amores Perros, 21 Grams or Babel, the films he wrote for Iñárritu, you won’t be surprised to learn that The Burning Plain is another teasing jigsaw-puzzle of a movie.

Co-starring three generations of beautiful and talented actresses – Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger and newcomer Jennifer Lawrence – The Burning Plain invites the viewer to piece together what initially appear to be completely disconnected storylines. In present-day Oregon, we encounter Theron’s restaurant manager, Sylvia, whose cool exterior evidently conceals a turbulent inner life and a troubled past. Elsewhere, in New Mexico, the illicit affair being conducted by Basinger’s wife and mother, Gina, has far reaching consequences for her teenage daughter, Mariana (Lawrence). What’s the connection?

Truth be told, the puzzle isn’t too difficult to solve, but the film looks fabulous, thanks to Robert Elswit’s striking cinematography, the acting’s excellent, and individual scenes are powerful and moving. But Arriaga’s trademark device of breaking his narrative into fragments is now producing diminishing returns and when the pieces finally come together The Burning Plain adds up to less than the sum of its mystifying parts.

Released on DVD on 24th August.

“A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end… but not necessarily in that order.”  Is Guillermo Arriaga over-doing his fragmented narrative shtick? Read more.