Around the release of Babel, screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga none-too-subtly suggested that he was the true auteur of his collaborations with director Alejandro González Iñárritu. As if to prove his authorial heft, Arriaga loads his own game of fatalistic scrabble, The Burning Plain, with engorged versions of his trademark woe-is-humanity tropes: fractured narratives, damaged gringos aching for redemption, and Mexican sufferers so saintly that one actually turns down a soaking wet Charlize Theron in a half-open peignoir.
The mirror-image wounded blond birds are Sylvia (Theron, crying a river), a doleful Oregon restaurant manager with a yen for bedding strangers only to punishingly lacerate her skin afterward, and Gina (Kim Basinger), a New Mexico housewife who finds carnal-spiritual refuge with a sensitive immigrant worker (Joaquim de Almeida). To reveal more would spoil the time-hopping hijinks of Arriaga’s connect-the-wretches diagram; suffice to say that a pair of star-crossed youngsters (J.D. Pardo, Jennifer Lawrence) lend an intergenerational angle to the cause-and-effect barriers separating the characters, while an angelic stalker (José Maria Yazpik) is shoved in as mediator.
Humorless and sanctimonious, Burning Plain groans with shoddy ironies and overbearing serendipity: Divided between sterile K-Marts and sun-parched fields, the world here is a stark playpen for anguished and vengeful globs of human Play Doh. The same rigged platitudes could be found in Amores Perros and 21 Grams, though González Iñárritu’s pulverizing, no-bell-left-unrung direction at least guaranteed some visceral reaction even to those who loathed those films’ facile determinism. By contrast, Arriaga’s technical inertness guarantees only a better look at his strained bag of tricks, along with a full view of the emperor’s bare ass cheeks.
The image is clean and crisp on this DVD of Guillermo Arriaga's The Burning Plain, but edge enhancement is noticeable at times throughout the film. The surround sound is nicely employed during key moments, but subtle background and foley sound effects are lost during quieter scenes.
The DVD's main extra feature is the in-depth, 43-minute featurette "The Making of The Burning Plain," which is composed of on-set footage and an interview with the director, who largely delves into the technical aspects of production but also explains the origins behind the film's opening scene as well as the four-elements theme that informs the cinematography (Charlize Theron represents water, and thus her scenes are awash in cool blue tones, etc.). Rounding out the disc is a 15-minute featurette focusing on the film's score, the HDNet special "A Look at The Burning Plain," which is essentially an extended trailer, and trailers for other Magnolia Pictures films.
Not much star power bolstering the disc's bonus features, but overall it's a nice package for a rather small film.