For first time screen writer Allen Loeb, Things We Lost In The Fire is quite an ambitious script. It relies almost completely on the writing and the performances that can be gotten from the acting leads. There’s really no place to hide in this story for anybody. And while I certainly found several elements of the story forced or contrived, there was an underlining emotion to the whole thing that carried through strong enough for the actors to find some very solid grounding. With that grounding Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro delivered what should have been award winning performances. Of course, I didn’t see all of the films released in 2007, but I find it hard to believe there were many, if any, better performances. These two had to carry the entire film, all the while manipulating the audience’s emotions, keeping them engaged with very little action or other stimulation. It’s the only thing that kept me watching, that and having to write this review.
Audrey Burke (Berry) has just lost her husband Brian (Duchovny) to an act of violence. She has two young children, and she’s having a very difficult time dealing with her loss. In a rather strange turn of events she turns to Brian’s best friend, Jerry (Del Toro) for some kind of comfort. What makes this so strange is that she, up to this point, hated Jerry and tried to convince Brian to stay away from him. Jerry is a drug addict, whom Audrey believed was just taking from Brian without giving anything back. She resented the fact that Brian was the only person that hadn’t completely given up on Jerry. Now she feels the need to connect with this man. She invites him to the funeral and finds herself fascinated with him. She asks him to stay at her house, and attempts to assist him in kicking his addiction. The two learn to explore their own emotions and deal with their grief. Together they find a way to improve themselves, by sharing this common bond.
What pleased me most with this story was that it refused to ever go where conventional storytelling dictated. There were moments I was afraid it was heading in just that direction. As Audrey and Jerry begin to bond, there is a hint of a budding romance. That path would have certainly destroyed this movie. Instead the film avoids that trap, and the relationship becomes a complicated one indeed, but not a romantic one. We learn of Audrey’s original feelings about Jerry through a series of flashbacks. This offered a relatively limited environment for Duchovny to really shine, but he manages to escape his Mulderesque mold and deliver, what is really the foundation for the movie’s emotional center. From there it’s in the hands of Berry and Del Toro, who shine at every turn. I was particularly impressed with Del Toro. His character must bear the burden of the most sweeping changes. In the end it all appears so believable that you’ll leave the film feeling like you’ve been a witness to this tragic space in these characters’ lives. Some might say the film is actually quite void of very much “stuff”. There’s really no action, and there are very long moments of near quiet contemplation. I might have been first in line to voice such concerns. But, sometimes the best thing that a writer or director can do is lay the groundwork and get out of the way of the performances. It takes somewhat remarkable actors to make that method work at all, but this movie has that in its leads.
Things We Lost In The Fire is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Blu-ray release delivers a strong 1080p image brought to you with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. It’s almost impossible to judge this presentation with the standard quality hallmarks of color and contrast. The image is most certainly intentionally muted. Lighting is artificial and saturated. Colors are washed away so that you almost get the impression you’re watching a monochromatic film. It reminds me of an old 8mm image of a church candlelight service. I hate to say it, but this movie was intended to bring you down, and the visual presentation is a strong part of that. The quality really comes through with exceptional detail and solid black levels. There’s no sign of compression artifact, and there is an appropriate level of film grain. The transfer boasts a solid average 33mbps bit rate.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is equally reserved. This is very much a dialog driven film, and so you should not expect an overly aggressive mix. There are some fine score moments that live in the rear area. There are also some quite subtle ambient sounds that allow just enough depth to the experience to keep you engaged. There are plenty of nearly silent moments in the film, and these are remarkably quiet with no unintentional noise or hiss to take you out of the moment. The dialog is often very soft. If you have trouble hearing dialog at times, this is one of those films that will give you trouble. You might opt for the subtitles. And speaking of sub, your bass speaker will not offer you much of anything, nor would it be appropriate that it do so.
All of these features are in Standard Definition:
A Discussion About Things We Lost In The Fire: Cast and crew offer a very low key 20 minute look at the film. Everyone is so soft-spoken, it’s almost as if they’re still trying to maintain the mood of the movie. It’s all pretty introspective and philosophical, rather than any serious exploration into the making of the film.
Deleted Scenes: There are 7 in all with a handy play all option. You get 10 minutes of extra footage here, but it’s one of those center screen framed affairs with all of that distracting reference information, which means nothing to us.
As much as I found myself enjoying the performances and the nontraditional storytelling, part of me always felt like I was seeing it all from a decidedly feminine point of view. Likely that’s the influence of director Susanne Bier. It wasn’t terribly distracting, but it often appeared to go into emotional areas I could neither relate to nor understand. For those moments, I’m thankful for the strong performances to see me through. It’s an appropriate point of view, because this is Audrey’s story. As much as it might be Jerry who experiences the changes, he is almost always viewed through Audrey’s eyes. It’s all a very interesting perspective. I suspect the women in the audience will get a bit more out of it than we guys will. But this guy is willing to overlook such small inconveniences and simply “accept the good”.