Monday, August 3, 2009

The Burning Plain *1/2

Director: Guillermo Arriaga
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger
Jennifer Lawrence, José María Yazpik, Joaquim de Almeida
John Corbett, Robin Tunney, J.D. Pardo, Tessa Ia, Brett Cullen

First it was the story about connections between three people in the same city, then three people in the same country, later three stories in the same planet...what could Guillermo Arriaga ("Amores Perros", "21 Grams" and "Babel") possibly write about next?
He didn't go for people in different planets, that would've been the "obvious" road, instead he proves his masterful skills by interconnecting three parallel stories that occur in different timelines...and how can that not be brilliant he wondered.
First we have Sylvia (Theron) a restaurant manager in Oregon who fills her empty life with emptier sex (with John Corbett's character among others) .
South of the border, and twelve years before there's Gina (Basinger) a discontented housewife having an affair with a married man (Almeida).
While her daughter Mariana (Larence) falls in love with her lover's son (Pardo). There's a couple of deathly accidents here and there, cross country travelling from a girl (Ia) looking for her mother and the sort of Biblical metaphors Arriaga has gotten used to from his previous works.
The one thing that's nowhere to be found is a soul.
Every little thing in the movie feels like a gimmick, like something designed to stir up emotions and muster some drama.
Most of the acting feels grandiose and serious, but turns out to be rather mediocre. Theron who has decided that not smiling makes her a good dramatic actress, spends the movie showing her breasts and confuses lack of interest with inner demons and yearning.
Lawrence is straight out of a "Dawson's Creek" episode and Basinger, while more interesting than anyone else in the cast, fails to inject her character with motivation.
Of course most of this is owed to Arriaga's inneficient direction and even worse screenplay where reductive psychology rules ("fire is purifying" says one of the characters who killed someone and then self burns to ease the guilt).
Arriaga tries his best to achieve a forced catharsys (that the movie ends with quick edits summing up why the writer thought he could pull off a Michael Cunningham is painful and sad) but in his film debut in emperor's clothes he seems to have forgotten that even if a film uses fractured storytelling and the characters speak English it can still turn out to be an old fashioned telenovela.

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