Things We Lost in the Fire

Director: Susanne Bier

Returning to the harrowing personal drama he perfected in 21 Grams, Academy Award winning Traffic star Benicio Del Toro takes on another intimate and demanding role in Danish director Susanne Bier’s first English language film, Things We Lost in the Fire. Bier, whose most recent movie After the Wedding was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award, works from a script from debut screenwriter Allan Loeb that plays off her interest in personal tragedy and family dynamics most evident in not only Wedding but also Brothers and Open Hearts. The result is an uneven but powerfully acted and intelligent drama that seems to recall the classic women’s weepie cinema of Douglas Sirk in the 1950’s (which was brought back to the big screen a few years ago in Haynes’s Far From Heaven). Halle Berry makes the most of her difficult role as Audrey Burke, an upper class Washington state housewife whose picture perfect marriage to David Duchovny is cut short when he intervenes in a domestic quarrel and ends up shot in a tragic murder/suicide. Left reeling from the horror of the unexpected death and trying to keep up appearances for her two young children (Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry), Audrey reaches out to the troubled Jerry (Del Toro), her husband’s lifelong best friend and former successful lawyer, now living in a seedy motel addicted to heroin. After Audrey instinctively but surprisingly invites Jerry to live in her vacant garage, he tries once again for sobriety while bonding with the children and helping Audrey work through the pain. Del Toro and Berry’s scenes together are explosive and filled with the kind of performances sure to draw Oscar attention (and deservedly so, especially in Del Toro’s case) but despite that, the film still feels a bit too cut off from reality and Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review in Entertainment Weekly attacked the lack of authenticity head on with her thoughts that it’s “still a TV-scaled tear-duct drama about a beautiful woman who pushes past sadness in her House and Garden home.” While I still felt that it was a worthwhile film, especially for fans of Bier (and Sirk for that matter), I do hope that in Bier’s next film, she’ll contribute to the screenplay herself given her vast experience and roots in the Dogme film movement and bring more of her unique style of shooting to the finished product that go beyond a few impressionistic reaction shots.