The Burning Plain | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Burning Plain

This non-linear melodrama tracks the ripples from one tragic act

A thirtysomething Oregon woman named Sylvia (Charlize Theron) struggles with the residual damage of a troubled adolescence. And who is that Mexican man stalking her? And why did this film open with a shot of a trailer home engulfed in flames? Guillermo Arriaga wrote and directs this multi-generational melodrama, which uncovers the source of these mysteries years ago in a hardscrabble New Mexico border town. Arriaga previously scripted Alejandro González Iñárritu's features Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and this film follows a similar nonlinear structure. Besides the two concurrent contemporary threads, several others set in the past unfold out of sequence. These reveal the affair that Sylvia's mom (Kim Basinger) was having, and how knowledge of it sent repercussions through two families. The story isn't as confusing as it sounds, and in fact, that's part of Plain's problem: Its random pieces fall into place too quickly and easily. Therefore, when the big revelation comes, viewers may have already guessed it, removing much of its dramatic impact. While Theron's Sylvia remains mostly a cipher, I was glad to see Basinger settle into a role with a little more heft. But a few good performances can't save it entirely: This film strives for the arthouse, but is too often played like a less shrill, and more chopped-up, Lifetime movie. In English, and some Spanish, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Oct. 2

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