The Burning Plain

Directed by Guillermo Arriaga (Paradox)

Guillermo Arriaga is a masterful screenwriter with the rare ability to deconstruct multiple stories and then skillfully put all the pieces back together again (Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams). For his directorial debut, however, the style that made him a legendary Mexican storyteller is also his heavyhanded downfall. Self-mutilating Sylvia (Charlize Theron, who seems to specialize in mope and pain these days) works in a swank ocean restaurant by day, filling her nights with loveless motel sex. Her story is somehow linked to Gina (Kim Basinger), whose passionate affair with a Mexican farmer (Joaquim de Almeida), fatefully leads to tragedy. Ultimately a tale of family sins being passed down, it's hard to see past the characters' collective misery to find any underlying emotional connections. Or to really care about any of them.

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