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Things We Lost in the Fire: Lush, Moving, and Very Sad

Based on the melodramatic-seeming trailer that told most of the movie's story in its two-and-a-half minutes, I had fairly low expectations for Susanne Bier's directorial follow-up to her Oscar-nominated After the Wedding. But Things We Lost in the Fire far exceeded those expectations. Aided by some solid performances and wise directional decisions, the movie is less cheesy and more potent than the trailer suggests.

The story starts out dreary and sentimental, then kicks into high drama and deep sadness, then it's horrifying, and then back to very sad, where it ends. There is redemption, but little joy to this story. The narrative begins with the funeral of Steven Burke (David Duchovny), which I think is a questionable move because watching people mourn without giving the audience any reason yet to be sad along with the characters creates an empty, pointless feeling. But the characters go on to earn our sympathy, and through a series of flashbacks interspersed with present-day action we are absorbed into this world of Steven's grieving widow Audrey (Halle Berry), their two children, and Steven's best friend — the down-and-out recovering drug addict Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro). For more about the story and my take on it,

Though she spent years mistrusting and disliking him, Audrey invites the quiet Jerry to live with her and the children in the garage that was damaged in a fire and never entirely finished before Steven's death. Once he moves in, Jerry is simply given things — a job and furniture from family friend Howard (John Carroll Lynch), the love and affection of Steven's kids — because they all loved Steven, and because Jerry knew him in a way nobody else did.

What I appreciate most about this movie is the character of Audrey, which Berry portrays as graceful and conflicted. It is so refreshing to find a true-to-life, complex female movie character. She's a caring mother and a sympathetic person, but she also acts in incomprehensible ways, making impulsive decisions fueled by grief and lack of sleep that seem heartbreakingly rash but also deeply human. At one point she demands that Jerry move out of the garage, which leads to Jerry relapsing, a most upsetting part of the film.

Certainly, I have some quibbles with the film. Steven's character is a little too goody-two-shoes to be believable, even up to his heroic death — getting shot while trying to protect a woman from her abusive husband. I'm also sure that after Audrey tells us all about the things they lost in the garage fire, two scenes later we don't need an actual written-out list of things they lost in the fire, as it just seems irritatingly redundant.

Yet these things are overshadowed by the beautiful direction (complete with perfectly-chosen music, from soothing flute to a sorrowful Spanish guitar to the steely blues that Jerry often pumps through his headphones) and some near-perfect performances. Del Toro does well with these gorgeously flawed characters, and his depiction of Jerry's relapse brings tears to my eyes even now. This isn't a breezy, escapist film, but it is very moving and lovingly crafted.

Photos courtesy of Paramount

Join The Conversation
chancleta chancleta 9 years
sounds awesome i love benicio something about him is so raw
CestLaVie CestLaVie 9 years
Sounds decent. Couldn't have been marketed too well, this is the first I have heard of it. Del Toro is a strong actor so it may be a 'renter'
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
Looking forward to seeing this now that I've read the review. Thanks, Buzz.
sofi sofi 9 years
wasn't too interested until I read this. very intriguing. I'll bring my tissue!
SassAndBide SassAndBide 9 years
i wanna see this movie :)
Zahara-Pitt Zahara-Pitt 9 years
the budget was 14- 16, so i had higher expections for it. Amighty heart had the budget, but people were callling it a floped when it open with over 4 million
JessNess JessNess 9 years
This isnt a big budget movie so lower box office numbers like that should be expected
pinkflats pinkflats 9 years
i was afraid this movie was going to be cheesy and lately ms. halle berry hasn't been choosing great roles to do but benecio del toro can do no wrong to my eyes. his character however reminds me of his character in 21 grams. anyways i trust your reviews buzz and i will see this one.
Kazagirl Kazagirl 9 years
I want to rent this when it comes out.
koolbr33z3 koolbr33z3 9 years
This looks like it'll be a great movie.
carolx15 carolx15 9 years
I so wanna see this one!
longhorn longhorn 9 years
Not sure this one will be around too long. Just saw the box office numbers for the weekend and it only made $1.6M or so. I thought it sounded pretty good, but they sure didn't market the movie well. It wasn't in many theatres but even the per screen numbers weren't good...maybe they'll expand the release. Actually, none of the new drama releases (GBG, Rendition) did very well this weekend.
Orangecrush43 Orangecrush43 9 years
Looks good
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