Box art for The Burning Plain

The Burning Plain

  • Rated R

independent, special interest

A romantic mystery about a woman on the edge who takes an emotional journey back to the defining moment of her life.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

PAUSE for kids age 17
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
2 out of 5
4 out of 5
Positive messages
2 out of 5
Positive role models
0 out of 5
4 out of 5
3 out of 5

Poignant story of infidelity, loss, remorse; not for kids.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie focuses on an adulterous relationship and the devastation it causes to its many victims. There are several scenes of frank sexuality, including passionate foreplay, suggested intercourse, and nudity (bare female breasts, buttocks, backs, and a fully nude woman seen from a distance). A violent explosion/fire that kills two adults is shown several times, though without any gruesome shots of the people inside. A young woman is seen mutilating her leg ("cutting") in a gesture of self-loathing, and two teens use a cigarette lighter to scar themselves. There's also plenty of strong language (including "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," "slut," etc.), smoking throughout, and occasional drinking.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about the fact that guilt is a recurring theme of the movie. Which characters feel guilty? How do the characters reveal their guilt? Are any of the characters strong role models?
  • How many lives were affected by the behavior of two people who fell in love and had an affair? Can you think of other instances in which many people suffer because of the actions of a few? What can we do to be aware of this fact when we make important life choices?
  • The filmmaker uses a nonlinear storytelling method, with repeated shifts of time and place. What do you think the goal behind that decision is? What does this technique require of the viewer?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

  • Tomatometer®

    reviews counted: 29
    see all The Burning Plain reviews
  • Audience


Top Critic Reviews

Rotten: In The Burning Plain we follow three-or maybe four-different stories that ultimately converge in ways that are both utterly predictable and completely preposterous.

- A.O. Scott, At the Movies, Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rotten: The elliptical structure of the narrative can't cover up its overheated, half-baked banality.

- A.O. Scott, New York Times, Friday, September 18, 2009

Rotten: The Burning Plain marks Arriaga's behind-the-camera debut, and his obviousness is staggering.

- Aaron Hillis, Village Voice, Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Audience Reviews

3 stars

The first film by Guillermo Arriaga since his public breakup with professional partner Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu, a collaboration that rendered such lauded projects as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. Fire is a recurring theme that appears all through the plot of The Burning Plain. Like in other stories by Mexican-born writer Arriaga, the story follows a non-linear narrative. The strength of the film is found in its female cast: from Charlize Theron (who also executive-produced) and Kim Basinger to newcomers Tessa Ia and Jennifer Lawrence, the latter giving the best performance in the film as "Mariana". Lawrence is already gathering considerable Oscar buzz for her role in another drama, Winter's Bone. Also of note is the cinematography by Robert Elswit (There Will be Blood), which is particularly stunning when showing the chilly Portland shore. Guillermo Arriaga's one and only big mistake is his inability to really capture the essence of Mexico and its people which, frankly, is a mistake no Mexican filmmaker should make. Most of the Mexican (or Mexican-American) characters that appear in the film feel fake and artificial, even stereotypical, which isn't something unheard of in the world of cinema, but one would definitely expect more authenticity from a director that's portraying his own culture.

- fernandorafael, Sunday, October 31, 2010

3 stars

The Burning Plain opens with a trailer in the middle of the desert that is engulfed in flame. It just sits there, an inferno with a background that John Ford would be proud of. We come to find out that there were two people in the blaze: Gina (Kim Basinger) and Nick (Joaquim de Almeida). They were in the throws of passion when the propane tank exploded. The two were married. But not to each other. Out of the ashes Nick's son (J.D. Pardo) and Gina's daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) develop a romance after satisfying the curiosity of what each lover was like. As time passes we're introduced to Sophie (Charlize Theron), a restaurant manager whose life has turned into a series of meaningless sex acts and self mutilation. The funny thing about The Burning Plain is how it surprises you. You expect the main focus to be Basinger's relationship or Theron's loss of life, but at the central core of the film isn't a couple playing in the desert, put how their children help each other cope and eventually create what was destroyed in that trailer in the desert. That's the most interesting story. Through all the odds and animosity they hold it together. Even though it's not a perfect film, it does hold ones interest with a story that spans time and how it will catch up with you . It is more tragedy than romance, so don't go into this expecting Nicholas Sparks garbage. This is actually well written and acted with a sense for detail. A nice film.

- sononothing, Saturday, September 18, 2010

3 stars

It took me a little bit to start piecing things together, but I did and it turned out to be an okay film. Wouldn't watch it again...

- dreamfaeries, Friday, August 13, 2010