If, after his scripting of such uniquely structured and deeply complex human dramas as "Amores Perros," "21 Grams" and "Babel" (as well as the fine "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"), there was still any doubt that Guillermo Arriaga was one of the most innovative screenwriters working today, "The Burning Plain," on which he also makes his feature directorial debut, should cement that reputation.
Powerful, profound and beautifully rendered, "The Burning Plain" plays like a good novel that was superbly adapted for the screen, the kind one might read and wonder whether it was just too multilayered and emotionally resonant to survive that often-dangerous transition off the printed page. Arriaga's latest work is another trademark juggling act of seemingly unrelated stories, time frames and characters, whose parts will deftly intersect in masterful, unexpected ways.
Charlize Theron portrays the pivotal Sylvia, a beautiful but clearly damaged restaurant manager who's sleeping with a married co-worker (John Corbett) but available to any man who shows interest; particularly, it seems, strangers. Her world will irrevocably shift, however, when someone from her buried past suddenly shows up in need of the kind of support the painfully detached Sylvia may be incapable of providing.
Then there's the story of Gina (Kim Basinger), a New Mexico mother of four and cancer survivor whose passionate affair with the also-married Nick (Joaquim de Almeida) has tragic consequences that, for better or worse, will bond Gina's teenage daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Nick's stalwart son Santiago (J.D. Pardo).