The Burning Plain (15)

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The Independent Culture

The directorial debut from the screenwriter of Babel and 21 Grams, The Burning Plain, is, like his other films, a ponderous, politically freighted drama which jumps disorientingly from country to country, from language to language, and from time period to time period, before its storylines dovetail at the end. Charlize Theron is a sexually voracious, emotionally withdrawn restaurant manager in grey, rainy Oregon (a locale which looks just as uninviting here as it did in last week's Wendy and Lucy). Kim Basinger is a desperate housewife having a tender affair in New Mexico. Also in New Mexico, two teenagers bond after the deaths of their parents. And in Mexico, a girl goes in search of the mother she has never known.

It's an intriguing game as long as you're trying to work out how the jigsaw pieces interlock, but once you've done that, the picture those pieces form is hackneyed and melodramatic. Basinger makes her fragile character into a human being; everyone else is just a fragment of a puzzle.