Thursday, September 17, 2009

Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga directs! THE BURNING PLAIN opens in limited release

What's in a name? You'll find out in THE BURNING PLAIN, the new and first full-
length film by Guillermo Arriaga, screenwriter on Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Names are one of the means by which you'll be able to link the seemingly disconnec-
ted stories in this never uninteresting (though finally not quite interesting enough) tale of a

troubled woman in permanent hock to her past.

For my money, I must say that Señor Arriaga seems every bit as talented and worthwhile a director as does his oft-time collaborator, quarreler and (I would guess) mentor Alejan-
dro González Iñárritu, whose films (other than his amazing contribution to the September 11 collection) have left me less than enthused. Both men favor fractured story lines that are joined by the theme of our global connectedness.

While that topic is present here (at least in the link between the USA and Mexico), so are themes of personal and parental responsibility and the inevitable pressing of the past upon the present. If anything, Arriaga seems less "showy" as a filmmaker than is Iñárritu and more content to allow the vital connection between actor and camera to work its magic. Consequently, the performances he elicits from his cast are solid and magnetic. Because that cast includes the likes of Charlize Theron (below), Kim Basinger (shown above at extreme right, finally in a good role in a decent film!), Robin Tunney, John Corbett and Joaquim de Almeida (shown above, near right), with Jennifer Lawrence (at bottom, left) and J.D. Pardo (bottom, right) representing the younger generation, you're in for some full-bodied acting.

The question on your mind throughout the first half of the film is: How do these characters fit together? Once you've made the connection (around the halfway mark), the direction in which the film is heading becomes clear, and though there is one further surprise in store, it is not enough to prevent things from becoming a little too rote. And we still have nearly an hour more to endure. This is a shame, really, because the plot of The Burning Plain is strong enough to stand up to more a conventional narrative -- which I hope to see Señor Arriaga engage with someday soon. Meanwhile we can enjoy the performances, nice visuals (cinemato-
graphy by Robert Elswit and John Toll) and the story, even if the movie does not fully live up to its promise. Or its title: Rather than any vast plain catching fire, there's only one, dilapidated old trailer.

Distributed via Magnolia Pictures, the film begins its theatrical run Friday, September 18. Concurrently it's available On-Demand from your local cable TV provide. Click here for a list of all upcoming theatrical playdates.

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