Grief, recovery, and human contact. Brian is a great guy - a sweet father, a good husband, and a loyal friend to his boyhood pal Jerry who's a junkie. When tragedy strikes, Jerry tries to help Brian's wife and children cope, and Audrey, Brian's widow, tries to help Jerry kick the habit. Loss and addiction are stubborn. The story starts on the day of the funeral, with Brian appearing in flashbacks. A neighbor's divorce, a dinner party that includes a young woman from the Narcotics Anonymous group Jerry attends, and thinking back to a fire in Brian and Audrey's garage give the story texture. Written by
Phenomenal acting and a riveting story make Things We Lost in the Fire a must-see film, and an early Academy Award contender for an acting nod to Benicio Del Toro. While the film is deceptively simple, with few sets, fewer characters, and a non-sequential storyline, it is a powerful acting showcase for its impressive cast.
Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) has lost her husband Steven (David Duchovny) in a senseless murder. A few days later, the fast approaching funeral reminds her that she forgot to invite her husband's best friend Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), a recovering heroin addict. Audrey is distraught and unable to cope with her loss, and despite her constant disapproval of Jerry and his horrific lifestyle, she invites him to stay in her home, partially to fill up some of the emptiness in her life, and partially because of his pathetic situation. When Jerry begins to fill the shoes of Steven, especially in the eyes of her two young children, Audrey must come to terms with her losses and what Jerry's influential presence may mean to her family.
Halle Berry's character is unable to cope with the loss of her husband, and a major theme that runs throughout the film is how detrimental death can be to family life and friends. She mourns for two hours, and while her contempt for Jerry (and then her slowly increasing appreciation for his presence) makes her a relatively dislikable character initially, her actions are not unbelievable. Berry's performance is powerful and emotional, and while audiences will be divided on whether she deserves sympathy or contempt, it will be unanimous that her acting is Oscar worthy.
Del Toro likewise inspires with his heartfelt and deeply moving Jerry, who doesn't want sympathetic attention, but whose actions demand it. Perhaps given up on by life, he too has given up on beating his addiction, despite his attendance at NA meetings and his once-a-year birthday meeting with Steven, his one and only true friend. It is left open as to how the two met and why they are so close considering their extremely different lives, but their connection and acceptance of each other's positions is perfectly understandable. When he becomes more than just a house guest, unexpected kindness and attention come from the children as well as the slowly softening Audrey. Easily one of the finest performances of the year, Del Toro embodies his drug-riddled and burnt out character with such authenticity and passion that it is also Del Toro's finest performance of his career.
Two factors remain mildly unsettling during the course of Things We Lost in the Fire. Firstly, the camera frequently lingers on extreme close-ups of characters' eyes. Never are both eyes framed, but only one and off-centered to boot, which is not only unusual, but also doesn't convey as much emotion as a larger portion of the face could. Perhaps it is an attempt to be innovative, but it serves no purpose other than to cause the audience to take note of its atypicalness. Secondly, the film jumps back and forth in time. Quite unnecessary for a storyline such as this, which could have utilized flashbacks for Steven instead, this shifting timeframe is not nearly as disorienting as it is unamusing.
A slow moving film that steadily builds as each character is fully fleshed out, Things We Lost in the Fire is a great character study that thrives on exceptionally spectacular performances. Each individual part is outstanding, but in its entirety it doesn't cross boundaries of overall superiority. Definitely worth watching for all of its sensational performances, look for Things We Lost in the Fire during this year's Academy Awards.
Mike Massie (MoviePulse.net)
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