The Burning Plain

Rated 2.0

This arid ensemble drama marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote the scripts for all three of Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s films. The Burning Plain follows the same template as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel—cross-cutting/cross-cultural narratives, utter humorlessness, deceptive switchbacks in time, and lots of vaguely defined suffering in a vacuum—without the saving grace of Inarritu’s visual poetry and talent for drawing out powerful performances. Arriaga’s lifeless film links together a promiscuous Pacific Northwest restaurant worker (Charlize Theron, who also co-produced), a Mexican crop duster and his daughter, and an adulterous couple whose families become strangely entwined by their unexpected deaths. As usual, Arriaga is so concerned with picking at the scab of human despair he forgets to make his characters remotely human, or even very interesting.