Flawed in its execution but anchored by two powerful and subtle performances by Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro, Things We Lost in the Fire takes a look at the tragic aftermath of an unexpected death and the recovery processes of two very different but united individuals. Berry plays Audrey, a mother of two whose loving husband, Brian (David Duchovny), is suddenly killed, leaving her completely bereft. She turns to her husband’s best friend Jerry (Del Toro) for support, as the two of them are the most adrift without Brian. However, their relationship is tense as Jerry is a recovering heroin addict who Audrey had unfairly despised in the past for seemingly taking advantage of her husband’s kindness and loyalty. In her state of grief, Audrey becomes harsh, occasionally being unkind to Jerry for things out of his or her control. Jerry, out of a mixture of loyalty to his best friend, affection for the two young kids, a contained attraction to Audrey, and a deep understanding of her grief and pain takes her ill treatment of him without complaint. When Jerry eventually relapses, Audrey proves her strength of character by literally and figuratively dragging him away from his destructive habit. In the end, Audrey and Jerry help each other on the way to long road to recovery from loss and addiction.
The film’s script is sensitive, moving, and beautiful, but is also marred by distracting editing techniques. The first part of the film is told in a non-linear fashion and the rest is frequently interrupted with jarring music or unnecessary close-ups of eyes. Danish director Susanne Bier describes her justification for these extreme close-ups as nearing abstraction, where viewers get a real sense of a character’s emotions. Unfortunately, they come across as trite. Contradictorily, Bier’s style of storytelling seems to be Dogme, slice-of-life rather than Hollywood cinematic as most scenes happen quietly and are arranged almost aimlessly. There is a contemplative quality to the film as the viewer is forced to search and wait for moments to pass between characters organically.
Luckily, Berry and Del Toro give incredibly compelling performances that overcome the failures of the rest of the film. They bring layers and layers to their flawed characters and completely nail their characters’ individual scenes of catharsis or breaking down. Berry, in particular, brings the ample emotional resonance even when her character is being difficult and unlikeable. When Audrey finally allows the floodgates of grief to open, it is impossible not to cry at such a heartbreaking scene. A small issue to bring up, perhaps, with Del Toro’s performance is his weight. As a heroin addict, Jerry’s face and body does not appear (to me) to be significantly wasted; instead, he looks a little bit paunchy in parts of the film. Other than that, Del Toro gives a very detailed portrayal of a drug addict going through multiple stages of addiction and recovery, especially withdrawal. Plus, he’s great with the two kids, who are excellent and adorable on their own. All in all, Things We Lost in the Fire is a worthy watch for the brilliant story and outstanding performances.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 mortgage broker exams