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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Requires the viewer to be capable of analyzing a subject.

Author: gingertea from California
31 December 2000

Top notch film? No. Boring as hell? NO. This film will not appeal to people who have no sense of history, family, or the ability to sit still for more than five minutes and analyze something.

The film was fascinating, not always clear as to its intent, but an interesting journey with characters worth watching.

You have a father, a Holocaust survivor, who even in his own madness still believes in the quality of THINGS. In this case it's his publishing house which has been an imprint of quality work. There are, unfortunately, few places for works such as this in our times. Few people have the patience or understanding of quality and workmanship. Thus the conflict with one of his sons. His son wants the imprint to continue but with a much broader audience, quantity above quality. I don't believe it is even about money. It's about moving away from the past. Neither the father or children are completely capable of doing this. The past, the family, has a hold on all of them no matter how they deny it or try to move away from each other.

If you have an understanding of what we have lost by having everything being bought and sold to the lowest common denominator; a family dealing with madness of a beloved relative, and THINGS being valued above the love and respect of others give the film a try. If you have an attention span of a knat try something with Arnold. Some things are worth muddling through just for the rare glimpse of ourselves.

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

A must see...If you didn't have the chance to see the play.....

10/10
Author: MarieGabrielle from United States
7 December 2005

This film is an excellent substitute. I cannot believe someone would post that the "öld guy should be put in an asylum"....obviously they have never had a family member with a serious illness; Ron Rifkin is very good as Isaac, the publisher being driven out of business by mass market mega-bookstores; He primarily publishes Holocaust and historical books of value; not paperback trash. Other films have addressed this issue, but not in detail, and with sensitivity.

Timothy Hutton, Sarah Jessica Parker and Tony Goldwyn play the children, who are each affected differently by the father's illness; Timothy Hutton is excellent as the younger son, whose father doesn't approve of his teaching profession. Sarah Jessica Parker, while not my favorite, is believable as the young daughter who has a flighty career as a children's show host. Tony Goldwyn is very good as the oldest; the son with a head for business, who is constantly at odds with his father (Rifkin).

I will not divulge the story, but suffice it to say that the dialogue is well-written, the story is not sugar-coated, and there is an excellent score by Joseph Vitarelli, which makes the audience feel touched by the story.

I wish films like this were more highly publicized than trash for cash Bruce Willis or Schwarzenegger movies.This film gives the audience credit for intelligence; and it makes me believe that there actually are talented filmmakers not just after the bottom dollar.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

An excellent film but lacking something.

6/10
Author: George Parker from Orange County, CA USA
16 May 2001

"The Substance of Fire" is a slice of life film which tells of a small time New York Jewish holocaust-survivor book publishing purist and authoritarian patriarch to his adult children; two sons, one daughter. The slice has to do with the slow disintegration of his family owned publishing business and his mental health in the wake of his wife's death, financial woes over his inability to adapt to market demands, and his advancing age.

The film sports a solid cast and excellent performances, especially by Rifkin, and is artistically and technically good. However, when all is said and done, the viewer may wonder why they bothered watching as the story just begins and ends with no apparent reason being; no moral, no message, no lessons, not compelling or thought provoking and difficult with which to empathize. Likely to be of most interest to those who like "all in the family" relationship films.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Film version of play Has "Substance",lacks "Fire".

Author: peacham from Pa.
19 December 2001



The Main reason to see the film version of "The Substance Of Fire" is Ron Rifkin's splendid performance. He reprises the role he created on stage with great aplomb.It is however,one of the few reasons to see this film.The plot has been drastically altered from the original play,even adding major characters that did not exist in the original.The basic story remains, a Jewish Publisher and his slow decent into dementia brought on through his loss of control of the company to his son. But there it ends. The messages in this film are very clear,but the execution,direction and scripting destroy the impact of the original play.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Excellent Movie

10/10
Author: id_unplugged from United States
5 November 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the best film I have seen in awhile. They are not making enough movies like this anymore. If you know bossy, know-it-all, patriarchal figureheads in families who begin losing it and drag the whole family into turmoil, stretching the fabric thin in all directions... this is the film to see it brilliantly laid out in rich hues.

The grieving father, spiraling into depression and dementia, slowly losing interest and touch with reality, his friends, colleagues and family. He is too proud, too scared, to let go of the past and embrace the new reality. After his wife, he thinks his loyalty lies with his work. Instead of cementing relations with his family, he sets about to publish the perfect memento to the past, a book on the Holocaust. When it's finished, nobody wants it. It's too expensive to buy, sell and keep on the shelves.

It's only when his most loyal and patient son, dies in the process of trying to bring him back to life, that he snaps out of his spell. People who are dear to him are passing away and he realizes that all he can do is to embrace 'today' and keep of it, what he can.

The movie is like a mirror. You get out of it, what you bring to it. If you are a feeling person, who is not sleep-walking through life, you will find this movie endlessly entertaining. Aside from the brilliant acting, the plot, screenplay and direction are all wonderfully woven together into a tapestry of moving art, depicting life.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

This movie was pretty decent

Author: (nikki_eyez@hotmail.com) from Phoenix, AZ
9 July 2000

I thought that this was an interesting look at how one person's hardheadedness can affect a family so strongly. Ron Rifkin did a wonderful job portraying 'Isaac'. I think he's a very underrated actor and I even loved his annoying accent.!( He uses the same accent that he had on "I'm not Rappaport.") I read an interview where he compares the movie vs. the stage version and supposedly it ends differently. I would have liked to have seen the play.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A tough drama that's worth sitting through.

Author: Pete-218 (phed@umich.edu) from Ann Arbor, MI
5 July 2000

I have to admit, I once began watching this and didn't get very far. But I tried again and found it very interesting - more interesting, at least, than the other poster. I thought Ronny Graham was hilarious as the elderly, cantankerous author. In fact, there was more humor in the movie than I imagined. Tony Goldwyn and Sarah Jessica Parker could easily pass as siblings, and the children of Ron Rifkin, but Tim Hutton didn't seem to belong to the same family. The most interesting thing to me, and perhaps a reason to watch it, was the brief scene of Goldwyn and Gil Bellows (as his boyfriend) dancing together.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Such an underrated film

10/10
Author: ribby45 from United Kingdom
18 March 2009

Love this to bits & wish I'd seen the play. Everyone comes out it with integrity, acting their socks off. Even minor characters are substantial & memorable. Subject matter aside, this glimpse of literary, educated New York is so rare. Hard to believe that SJP in 'Sex and the City' is the same actress in this film - here we see what she is really capable of doing. Timothy Hutton is a wonder - why isn't he a bigger star, in the general scheme of things? Ron Rifkin, of course, can do no wrong. It would have been so easy to make his character sympathetic & saintly -thankfully, Jon Robin Baitz doesn't fall into this trap. Only one criticism - could have done with a little more back story, for this viewer. Anyone who wants to know why the Shoah isn't over for many, many people could do worse than watch this film. Twice.

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7 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Not as good or as important or as meaningful as it thinks it is

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
16 March 2002

Isaac runs his publishing and continues despite the death of his wife. His company specialises in heavy subject matter about the Nazi's etc. However these don't sell well and Issac's insistence on perfection risks ruining the company. His son Arron sees this and brings in his brother Martin and sister Sarah to force their father to listen. However Isaac is forced out and starts another company – however with time it is obvious that Isaac is not fully competent to look after himself. Despite his own ill health Martin helps him to avoid court and losing everything.

Some films just shout worthy at you – this is a character driven piece about families etc, it's another worthy Miramax drama that, like Isaac's books, is lovely to look at and looks very serious and worthy. Unfortunately the story just goes along with nowhere to go and no points to make. We don't learn anything about the characters beyond the surface and they often seem to be stereotypes – the Jewish businessman father, the money motivated son, the bubbly daughter, the calm at-one-with-nature son etc. When the film does end, you feel like it should have been moving or involving, but instead it was slightly dull and uninvolving.

The performances are mixed, although it's a strong cast. Rifkin is good as the father, Isaac. However his character is not explained and his feelings never explored – instead we get a plot about mental competency. Goldwin is good as Arron, and Parker is good as bubbly (what else) Sarah. Hutton is poor as Martin, lecturing pupils by getting them to stare at trees, making meaningful sacrifice etc. His character is too calm and empty. The same could be said of Gil Bellows, although his character is smaller. Eric Bogosian makes a small cameo.

The problem with the cast is the same as with the film – there are too many scenes where they sit around talking, exchanging glances, Hutton says something semi-profound in a calm voice, the score comes up and we're all suppose to think something magical has happened. However this does not make a film worthy – even if it thinks it is.

I had great hopes for this film. I watched it twice in case I was missing something in this masterpiece. However hard the film tries it appears to have nothing to say and nowhere interesting to go. Dull and uninspired.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

One of the great films of its time

10/10
Author: Thun from U.S.A.
28 August 2002



Saw this at a film festival prior to its release and can't believe it didn't get more attention. The actors are excellent, but, more than that, it takes pains to *adapt* the original play into something that has a shape as a film. Never feels stagy, in spite of all the talk that seems to upset so many IMDb users. (Not in excess of any other talk-movie. Why would this one attract all the action fans?) Its pieces may not all add up, but that is something that marks a great film as often as it does a bad one. (Except for the fact that there are simply fewer great films in the world.) The quality of its observations is so good, it doesn't matter that there seem to be a few extraneous contents or that its point may not be entirely clear. It doesn't back away from complex questions and doesn't stoop to easy answers. Excellent.

Better than the American dramas getting all the awards, certainly.

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