It’s hard to peg a movie like Things We Lost in the Fire. While people want to slam it and say that it’s not an uplifting movie, I think that upon further review, they might want to examine those behind it, and see that it’s another solid effort from them.
Written by Allan Loeb in his writing debut and directed by Susanne Bier, the talented Danish director behind the film Brothers, the film centers on a recent widow named Audrey, played by Halle Berry (X2), who lost her husband Brian (David Duchovny, The X-Files) to a murder in tragic circumstances. After notifying Brian’s friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro, Traffic) about the murder, Jerry doesn’t seem to take it so well. Brian and Jerry have been friends since they were kids, and while Brian went onto a life as a successful architect, Jerry was a lawyer before becoming addicted to cocaine and heroin, and was spending his days at a sleazy dive apartment getting high. Yet Brian would come and visit Jerry, to catch up and talk about his family. When Audrey would be skeptical of how Jerry might be exploiting Brian, Brian stuck by him. So what Audrey winds up doing is inviting Jerry to live with them. In the process, Jerry helps Audrey and her kids cope with their loss, while trying to strike the delicate balance of sobriety.
Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky. It’s not that it’s a hard film to describe after the little “summary” I gave, it’s that for as interesting as the film is, and it’s certainly interesting, it’s really more about the people that Brian’s death has affected, and not on things that they have to run into and experience as the story dictates. Performance and storywise, things are quite intriguing. Bier takes the approach of filming most of the film via handheld camera, and the story unfolds pretty well. Audrey does take Jerry in to fill a bit of a need in the house. When his presence starts to take hold among Audrey’s kids, she starts to resent him for it, to the point where she starts to feel cold and distant from Jerry, and wishes that he would leave. Jerry’s not a bad guy and is trying to put his life together after his best friend is killed, and receiving this bit of kindness, only to have it thrown back at his face, makes him want to use again, which he eventually does. Audrey does recognize the error of what she might have done and enlists whatever help she can to get him well. Both Berry and Del Toro take on roles that are slight changes of pace for them (well, not so much for Del Toro), but they aren’t afraid to show their vulnerability, either within their characters or themselves, and that is fascinating to watch onscreen. Watching a scene late in the film where family and friends remember Brian around a dinner table, months after the funeral, is admirable in its understated power.
As for Bier, while it’s great that she got a couple of Oscar winners in the mix for the film, part of me feels like she’s rehashing some of the same emotional ground that was seen in the films she was making back home. But hey, if doing this means that she’s going to get some increased visibility to American audiences, than I’m certainly supportive of it.
Dolby Digital 5.1 for you to enjoy, but when you’re watching not necessarily the most optimistic entry into cinema, you’re going to experience people speaking barely above a whisper, and Things We Lost in the Fire does this for almost two hours. The dialogue that you can hear sounds pretty clear, but there are some songs that play in various points in the film (through Del Toro’s headphones) that sound clear as well as possess a little bit of a dynamic range, so we’re pretty set.
2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen that looks much better than I was expecting. The film’s themes are primarily around loss and addiction, and Bier employs a lot of dark colors in the film’s palette, and the blacks are dark, the colors are fairly vibrant, and there are a lot of tight shots on the characters faces, so expect to see a lot of hair, pores, that kind of thing. It’s no surprise that the film also has high definition copies available, it could possibly serve as a demo in some cases.
Not too much, though there is “A Discussion About Things We Lost in the Fire” which is a separation from EPKs that you usually see on these things and includes thoughts on the story from Bier, Loeb and other members of the crew. Bier discusses how she cast the actors she did, and it’s fun to listen to her pronunciation of Berry’s first name. Bier and the crew also talk about Del Toro’s preparation for tackling Jerry and also talk about some of the character dynamics. In terms of its approach it’s an interesting piece. Next up are seven deleted scenes, many of which illustrate Jerry’s addiction and road to recovery, cramming on a mortgage exam with a neighbor, and telling Audrey what he really thought of a piece of distressed wood. The trailer and some previews complete the disc.
All in all, Things We Lost in the Fire certainly makes for different storytelling. The performances are creative and a welcome change of pace from the norm, and Bier contributes a solid first film in America. If you like her work, you should definitely pick this puppy up, but otherwise I’d strongly recommend renting the disc for evaluation.