The Burning Plain (15)

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The Independent Culture

Guillermo Arriaga wrote Babel and 21 Grams, and if you swallowed their solemnities you might like this one, with its heavy sense of sadness and importance.

It's an odd, possibly unconscious riff on themes and images from Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas – amour fou, burning trailer, desert landscapes, child seeking the mother who deserted her years earlier... Charlize Theron plays Sylvia, manager of a swanky restaurant in the Pacific North-west, who by night buries herself in emotionless, rough-ish sex (I can't help feeling the restaurant trade is getting scapegoated here); meanwhile, hundreds of miles south and a dozen years earlier, teenager Mariana gets involved with a nice Mexican boy, Santiago; and shortly before that, Mariana's mother (Kim Basinger) and Santiago's father have a passionate affair that you know is going to end badly. Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia) photographs it beautifully, and the cast is fine (I can't decide whether Basinger gives a good performance, or Arriaga just exploits her strained, ageing beauty well). But Theron seems to have decided that acting is a matter of looking miserable, and the script is shallower and less surprising than Arriaga thinks.