Review:`Things’ Looks at Loss, Grief

October 18, 2007 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

Danish director Susanne Bier brings a stripped-down, Dogma sensibility to “Things We Lost in the Fire,” which could have been an overwrought story of loss and redemption but in Bier’s hands has powerful revelations.

Strong performances from Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro also elevate the script from Allan Loeb, which has it share of unbelievable elements. Bier, in her American debut, mostly keeps things simple and intimate, though, by using hand-held cameras, extreme close-ups and flooding the proceedings with spare, natural light.

The visual approach heightens the raw purity of emotion that Berry exudes as Audrey Burke, a wife and mother of two whose husband, Brian (David Duchovny), is sucked into a violent confrontation one night and shot to death. Loeb’s script, which skips around in time, shows us what their life was like, as well as the moment Brian is senselessly killed. In every instance, he seems too good to be true.

One of these examples is his bond with Jerry Sunborne (Del Toro), an on-again, off-again heroin addict he’d been close friends with since childhood. The relationship had angered Audrey, who believed Jerry was taking advantage of her husband’s extraordinary loyalty and kindness.

Nevertheless, as she grieves, she finds herself seeking Jerry out and asking him to move into the incredibly cool, modern Seattle home she shares with her daughter, Harper (Alexis Llewellyn), and son, Dory

(Micha Berry, no relation to Halle). She and the kids need someone around, she reasons; he needs to get clean. The hesitantly tender way they regard each other at Brian’s funeral suggests that, through their shared loss, maybe they’re both ready to start over and look out for each other.

Del Toro makes surprising, realistic choices in every film (“Traffic,” “21 Grams”), and that’s true here, as well. He’s convincingly damaged you can see it in his face, the hunched-over way he carries himself and his awkwardness as he tries to establish a healthy new life is unexpectedly endearing. One aspect of “Things” that really rings true is its depiction of addiction and recovery that it’s usually not an easy, straight line but rather a challenging series of peaks and valleys.

He also has some effortlessly touching interaction with youngsters Llewellyn and Berry, whose characters respond to him as the father figure they desperately need. Alison Lohman also forms a strong connection with him as a fellow addict in recovery who’s fond of him, and who’s the first to worry when it appears he might have returned to his old, tortured ways. Lohman only appears in a few scenes; you’d like to see more of her.

Jerry mainly spends time around Audrey’s house, chain-smoking, playing basketball with the kids, helping with dinner or fixing up the converted garage in the back, which was damaged in the fire of the film’s title. A neighbor, played with likable goofiness by John Carroll Lynch, tries to get him to join him on morning jogs, which is amusing (and there’s not much to laugh about here).

Eventually, he and Audrey are called upon to overstep their casually friendly bounds in ways that are totally implausible and nearly destroy the pervasive sense of realism Bier otherwise had established. The sense of honesty in the film’s performances, and in its intentions, is the thing that allows it to recover.

“Things We Lost in the Fire,” a DreamWorks Pictures release, is rated R for drug content and language. Running time: 113 minutes. Three stars out of four.



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