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The Burning Plain

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Guillermo Arriaga
Produced by Walter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Charlize Theron
Written by Guillermo Arriaga
Starring Charlize Theron
Jennifer Lawrence
Kim Basinger
Music by Omar Rodríguez-López
Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Studio Wild Bunch
2929 Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (UK)
Release date(s) 2009
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Gross revenue $4,456,346 (worldwide)

The Burning Plain is a 2009 drama film directed and written by Guillermo Arriaga, the screenwriter of Amores perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), and Babel (2006). The film stars Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Basinger and Joaquim de Almeida. In Arriaga's directorial debut, he films a story that has multipart story strands woven together like in his previous screenplays. Filming of The Burning Plain began in New Mexico in November 2007, and the film was released in late 2008 in various festivals, before general releases in 2009.



Typical of Arriaga's works, this film is told in a non-linear narrative, where events are revealed out of sequence. The following plot summary is in chronological order, and thus does not reflect the exact sequence of the events as seen on screen.

The film starts off some time in the mid-90's in a small New Mexico town near the border of Mexico, where we are introduced to Gina (Kim Basinger), a wife and mother to four children. Gina carries out an affair with a local man named Nick Martinez (Joaquim de Almeida), who also has a family of his own, but unbeknownst to the two, Gina's teenage daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) finds out about their love affair. Mariana follows her mother to Nick's trailer. Knowing the two are inside and in an effort to make them end their affair, she disassembles the gas pipe leading into the trailer, and sets it on fire. The flames eventually reach a gas tank that causes a fiery explosion, consuming the entire trailer and claiming both Nick and Gina's lives, although she had no intention on killing either of them. After their funeral, Mariana and Nick's own teenage son, Santiago (JD Pardo), slowly begin to develop a relationship of their own. Mariana soon becomes aware that she is pregnant with Santiago's daughter. The two flee to Mexico amid disapproval from their families and decide to have the baby there, but after she has delivered their daughter, Mariana abandons her family and assumes the new name of Sylvia.

Over a decade later, Sylvia (now played by Charlize Theron) works at a high-end Portland restaurant. Despite her success, she resorts to promiscuity and has persistent thoughts of suicide. After an encounter with Carlos (José María Yazpik), one of Santiago's friends, he informs her that Santiago was involved in a serious airplane accident in Mexico while crop dusting, and that he has been raising their daughter, named Maria (Tessa Ia), there for all these years. Carlos urges Sylvia to pay him a visit. Sylvia struggles with her conscience as to whether or not she should revisit her past, but ultimately realizes her mistakes and regrets abandoning her family. With help from her friend Laura (Robin Tunney), Sylvia is able to reunite with her daughter once again, whom Carlos has brought along to Portland. They fly over to Mexico, where Sylvia apologizes to Maria for the years she's been absent in her life. After a night of rest, they arrive at the hospital to see Santiago, who is still in a coma from the accident. Sylvia confesses her past sins by his bedside, unsure if he will ever wake up again. The doctor reassures them that he will pull through, and the story concludes with the signs of hope for the family.



The Burning Plain is written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga in his directorial debut after writing the screenplays for director Alejandro González Iñárritu's films Amores perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), and Babel (2006).[1] Arriaga said that he wanted to write a script for himself to direct after 11 years of scriptwriting. The writer-director described the premise, "There are very intense love stories here that take place in different places and times, with characters trying to find the healing powers of love, forgiveness and redemption."[2] Arriaga wrote the story of The Burning Plain to weave together multipart story strands. The film was financed by 2929 Productions, and Constantini Films and The Weinstein Company purchased the rights to distribute The Burning Plain in Latin America.[1] The film will have a budget of under $20 million.[2] The Burning Plain began filming in New Mexico on November 5, 2007.[3] Other filming took place in Portland and Depoe Bay in Oregon.


It was screened at the September 2008 TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival).

The film was screened at the 2008 Savannah Film Festival (October 25-November 1).

It is an entrant of the international competition of 65th Venice International Film Festival.

The Burning Plain was released September 18, 2009.[4]


Critical reception

The Burning Plain has received generally poor reviews from critics. In the review of Rotten Tomatoes reported 32% of the positive reviews, based on 60 reviews.[5] In another review, Metacritic reported 45% of positive reviews, based on 18 reviews.[6] Of the most positive reviews, David Gritten writing for The Daily Telegraph decided that it "has all the right credentials: it is serious-minded and dramatic, with universal themes and a clutch of fine acting performances."[7] Wendy Ide, writing for The Times that it is an "elegantly structured tale of lives laced together with tragedy and guilt." Ide also praised Theron's performance and concluded that it is a "quality production."[8] According to Time Out, "Arriaga has delivered a compelling and entertaining debut that stays true to his earlier interests."[9]

Box office

The film grossed $58,749 in its first weekend in North America.[10] As of November 30, it has grossed $200,399 dosmetically and grossed a total of $4,456,346 worldwide.[11]


  1. ^ a b John Hopewell (November 5, 2007). "Constantini, TWC hot for 'Burning'". Variety. Retrieved November 13, 2007.  
  2. ^ a b Michael Fleming (July 11, 2007). "Charlize Theron to star in 'Burning'". Variety. Retrieved November 13, 2007.  
  3. ^ "'The Burning Plain' seeks extras in southern New Mexico". KDBC 4 News. October 23, 2007. Retrieved November 13, 2007.  
  4. ^ Stuart Kemp (November 5, 2007). "Market buyers pick up pace, pics". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 13, 2007.  
  5. ^ "The Burning Plain – Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 7, 2009.  
  6. ^ "Burning Plain, The (2009): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved November 7, 2009.  
  7. ^ Venice Film Festival review: The Burning Plain The Daily Telegraph, August 29, 2008.
  8. ^ The Burning Plain-Venice Film Festival The Times, August 30, 2008.
  9. ^ The Burning Plain review Time Out, August 2008.
  10. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for September 18-20, 2009 - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 7, 2009.  
  11. ^ "The Burning Plain (2009)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 30, 2009.  

External links

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