Award-winning screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga uses a convoluted narrative structure to tell a tale of love, betrayal and regret in The Burning Plain, his directorial debut. Arriaga opens the film with a shot of an old trailer in the middle of the desert burning to the ground, and he then proceeds to bounce around among several seemingly disparate characters, Babel-style, before finally bringing it all together in the film's final act.
The film stars Charlize Theron as Sylvia, a composed-but-icy manager of a fancy Portland, Oregon-area restaurant who spends her spare time having empty, emotionless sex with a wide array of men. Arriaga takes us back and forth from gray, rainy Portland, where Sylvia lives, to the New Mexico desert; early on we learn that the burning trailer, when it exploded into flames, was occupied by Gina (Kim Basinger), a white married housewife with four kids, and Nick (Joaquim De Almeida), a Mexican-American man, also married with kids.
Gina's daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Nick's son Santiago (J.D. Pardo) are drawn together as they struggle to deal with their parents' infidelity and death, much to the consternation of their respective families. Also tossed into the mix are a crop-duster pilot, his best friend, and his young daughter, whose lives are thrown into disarray when the pilot's plane crashes.