Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2008

The Burning Plain

Mexican novelist and scripter Guillermo Arriaga wrote Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel — films that weave coincidence and fate into epic tales of strangers brought together — for his compatriot Alejandro González Iñárritu. He also did The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada for actor-director Tommy Lee Jones. Now Arriaga has taken the directorial reins, and in this film he's playing with time: we gradually deduce that about 20 year separates the two main stories: of Sylvia (Charlize Theron), a successful restaurateur with a compulsion for male companionship; and of Gina (Kim Basinger), a married woman having an affair that her teenage daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) learns about. To say more would spoil the suspense, since Arriaga's game is a complex weave of past sins and present consequences. It's a solid film, less dependent on authorial whim than Arriaga's earlier scripts, and with the heat of the American West so palpable, it gives full meaning to the movie's title. (Pun alert: the film also has a burning plane.) The performances by Theron and Basinger are strong enough to get noticed at Oscar time.