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MOVIE REVIEW
The Burning Plain (2008)

6Magnolia Pictures

Self-mutilation is now officially a cliché. It has become filmic shorthand to encapsulate within one scene years of psychological trauma visited on a person. It also seems quite redundant in the case of Sylvia, Charlize Theron’s character in “The Burning Plain,” who appears to be alarmingly promiscuous. If you also take into account the fact that it promises to be another one of those we-are-all-connected ensemble pieces, the film shapes up within the first 10 minutes to be a daunting task.

It turns out that Sylvia’s routine of cutting her inner thighs with rocks is completely understandable. And what initially seems like another sprawling saga from the pen of Guillermo Arriaga, the screenwriter of “21 Grams” and “Babel,” turns out to be just one singular messy, albeit nonlinear, tale. Although Mr. Arriaga, who pulls double duty as director, gradually reveals all the dots for the moviegoers to connect, you might feel as if you are a few steps ahead of the film. Then again, average moviegoers required repeat viewings of “The Sixth Sense.”

If you are willing to turn a blind eye to the inherently hackneyed nature of “The Burning Plain,” though, the film turns out to be somewhat rewarding. Ms. Theron is Oscar-caliber here, and many members of the supporting cast are mesmerizing. It really comes down to the climactic scene, in which newcomer Jennifer Lawrence is so believable that you begin to acknowledge Mr. Arriaga’s good intentions behind what otherwise seems to be another calculated piece of Oscar bait.

THE BURNING PLAIN

Opens on Sept. 18 in the United States.

Written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Craig Wood; music by Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Dan Leigh; produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald; released by Magnolia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Charlize Theron (Sylvia), Kim Basinger (Gina), John Corbett (John), Joaquim de Almeida (Nick), Danny Pino (Santiago), José María Yazpik (Carlos) and Jennifer Lawrence (Mariana).

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