Directed by: Susanne Bier
Premise: After her husband (David Duchovny) is killed in a random act of violence, Audrey (Halle Berry) invites Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), her husband’s best friend and a recovering heroin addict, to stay with her family.
What Works: Things We Lost in the Fire has some great performances by Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro. The two play off of each other very well, and the film capitalizes on the tension of whether they might cross some romantic barrier together and how Del Toro’s character functions as a replacement for the deceased husband. Jerry’s relationship with the children is very credible and the film wisely does not choose the easy and obvious path of allowing Jerry to be cured of his addiction merely by coming into contact with the children. The film is considerably smarter than that and its consideration for the intelligence of the audience is apparent throughout the story. The story crosscuts between the past and the present, telling the story of Audrey and Jerry’s relationship to Duchovny’s character and allowing that information to fill in the back-story of the characters and inform the audience about the choices and situations of the story occurring in the present. This is very smart storytelling and gives a textured and rich portrayal of the characters and the life of the family. Things We Lost in the Fire is also unexpectedly but welcomingly funny in several scenes. It is a surprise to see the humor amid such dark subject matter and it works to humanize the characters and give the scenes of grief more emotional weight because of the contrast.
What Doesn’t: There is one moment at the very end of the picture in which Berry has a big crying scene. Although it is earned, the acting risks going over the top at that moment. It does not do that, but it comes awfully close to spoiling what is otherwise a great performance.
Bottom Line: Things We Lost in the Fire is a smart film about loss and recovery. Although it treads in dark subject matter, the film never gives itself over to unnecessary sentimentality.
Episode: N/A (November 4, 2007)