A Review of “Things We Lost in the Fire”

In 2004 it was Birth.  In 2005 it was The New World.  In 2006 it was Marie AntoinetteThings We Lost in the Fire was the most unfairly dismissed and overlooked film of 2007.  Most audiences go to movies for escapism, and Things We Lost in the Fire flew in the face of that notion and dealt with subject matter that never lights the box office on fire but deserves to find its audience on DVD.

CAPTION:  Shhhh, Halle Berry, go to sleep.  No one needs to know you were in a movie that was actually good.

One Day at a Time…, 4 May 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Sometimes you have to view movies one day at a time. As a film buff, I have to take the good with the bad. Danish director Susanne Bier’s first American venture, Things We Lost in the Fire is one of those surprisingly good human dramas that often gets lost in the shuffle and doesn’t receive the credit it deserves.

When Audrey (Halle Berry) loses her husband (David Duchovny) in a tragic Good Samaritan act gone bad, she deals with her grief in an unexpected way by inviting his drug-addicted best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro) to come live with her and her two young children while he “gets on his feet.” Featuring a music score designed to remind people of 21 Grams (which also starred Del Toro and played with many of the same themes) and interesting cinematography full of extreme close-ups and small visual details designed to evoke intimacy and realism, Things We Lost in the Fire delicately mirrors Audrey’s grief process against Jerry’s rocky recovery.

The film is far from perfect as it sometimes deals with subjects (especially the scenes where Jerry is withdrawing from heroin) in a clichéd manner. Berry also struggles as she seems to underact in some of the more poignant scenes as a way to balance her overacting in some of the more theatrical scenes. However, her performance as an organic whole is very strong, and her character and her family feel and look “real.” The things they say and the way they deal with their situations are raw and heartfelt without ever being sappy or sensationalistic. The kids are naturalistic, and they actually look like they could be the children of Berry and Duchovny. Del Toro is once again a revelation, and his performance speaks volumes with his mannerisms and facial expressions as he attempts to reconcile his sad past with a hopeful future. Sadly, his tour de force was overlooked by every end of the year awards in 2007.

The bread and butter, however, is in the small details. Things We Lost in the Fire uses visual motifs, side stories, character foils, mirroring, and nuanced repetition in dialog as ways to develop grander themes. This is the stuff of great novels, and rarely do we find it attempted in film. What could have easily been dismissed as a melodramatic weeper turns out instead to be something quite good. The overlapping closing scenes where Berry speaks not a word while coming in from the rain, and Del Toro delivers a rehab monologue that gives quite possibly the most honest insight into addiction and recovery ever captured on screen, is a hauntingly hopeful mosaic of small moments. Yes, there were some moments of formulaic Hollywood gobbily-gook and some moments of strained drama, but these closing moments are real. They are good, and we as human beings (as film goers) have to learn to accept the good.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0469623/usercomments-43

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4 comments on “A Review of “Things We Lost in the Fire”

  1. Nick Plowman says:

    Very astute review indeed, I am very glad we share a similar opinion on a film not so well recieved for reasons I cannot comprehend.

    Thanks for visiting my site, I will no doubt visit yours more often now, seeing as you write so well 🙂

    Nick, in the States these types of films never seem to do well, I think, because they hit too close to home, unless they are particularly well reviewed and marketed (which this film was not here). We’ve all lost a loved one and/or experienced addiction or know someone addicted to something, and I don’t imagine most people want to explore that in a movie theater. However, in the comfort of one’s own home on DVD, these films can be cathartic. I hope this movie finds its audience. Thanks for stopping by. I will keep an eye on your blog as well as it seems you get a diverse selection of films over there in South Africa, some of which don’t see the light of day in the States. –DHS

  2. bafilmfan says:

    David,

    Couldn’t agree more. The small details in this film show a wonderful vision by this director. I’m going to try and track down some of her Danish films and check them out. Great review.

    BayAreaFilmFan, thanks for reminding me I need to track down some of her Danish films as well. I wonder what her next project will be? I’ve also been enjoying your reviews on your blog, which I shall add to my blogroll. We seem to see eye to eye on many films. –DHS

  3. vinnieh says:

    Great review, looks like an interesting movie.

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