Charlize Theron is pretty amazing in most of the roles she takes on, but there’s always something about them that you still know it’s Charlize Theron. Even her critically acclaimed role turn in Monster was, while shocking, still like just a dirtier version of herself. So, going into The Burning Plain, I had reservations about how Theron would stand out – or whether she would at all. I was pleasantly surprised. I feel like Theron really made this role her own, and even though I know that sounds so cliche, it can actually be true when you watch a film that really strikes a chord in you. For me, that film was The Burning Plain.
In the wrong filmmakers’ hands this movie could have easily been a standard, multi-level drama, even made-for-TV material (think the WE Network), but it’s solid stuff from newcomer director Guillermo Arriaga that was clearly crafted with the most caring of hands. Arriaga utilizes all the best parts about the recently-indie-fashionable disjointed narrative, making it both easy to follow and purposeful throughout the film. While the film has glorious cinematography going for it as well, it’s also notable (and nice to see) for once an indie filmmaker not relying on his DP’s gorgeous camerawork to simply bring home the theme of the film. Instead, the actors and their actions are really what make this picture.
The film is built around the central and titular image of a massive fire burning in a large, flat field. What’s burning turns out to be an old ramshackle trailer which previously served as a home-away-from-home for two disillusioned individuals, taken by each other out of whatever internal need they were each trying to fulfill. Soon that “taken” turns to the obvious passionate love affair, but it’s really not the affair so much as the ramifications it has which propel the story forward and backward. You’d be hard pressed not to find some of the scenes in the film a little expected or by-the-book, but again, it’s in the handling of the narrative and the superb character acting that make this movie a triumph.
Kim Basinger is herself, but tormented, selfish and mischievous. Theron is herself, but broken and uninhibited. Joaquim de Almeida, Robin Tunney, Jennifer Lawrence and John Corbett are all equally engaging and real. It’s a powerful film and one that I don’t think received enough recognition during it’s time in the theaters.