Writer-director Arriaga's middling drama is a far cry from the powerful scripts he came up with for Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros. His directorial debut seems uncertain and tentative - one expects far more passion and fire from him. It's a worthy effort to be sure but it doesn't pay off. The dialogue seems awkward, the pauses too long, the performances need more energy and contrast. Everyone looks utterly miserable as they strive for weighty significance that just isn't there.
We are presented with two story strands. Unhappily married mother Basinger is having an affair with Mexican De Almeida. If her family finds out there will be hell to pay. Her daughter (Lawrence, affecting as a troubled adolescent) discovers the illicit liaison and tragedy occurs. Meanwhile, Theron plays a restaurant manager with a predilection for casual sex. Her many trysts are merely a mask for her to forget the anguished existence of her early years, and when the young daughter she abandoned meets her, dark memories come to the fore again. These two plot elements are connected but it would be invidious to reveal how. That said, you won't find it difficult to see how the pieces fit together as the movie progresses.
Theron gives a physically uninhibited performance (she's naked in a couple of scenes) but it's a one-note turn generally.The same can be said of Basinger. These two excellent actresses should have been allowed to cut loose and emote from the gut, but Arriaga seems intent on constraining them. The supporting actors adopt the same tepid tone. Overall it's an undernourished enterprise - thematically, emotionally and dramatically. Shame.