Danish helmer Susanne Bier brings her less conventional stylishness to a morose tale of catharsis, recovery, and friendship.
Starring Oscar winners Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro (and produced by acclaimed director Sam Mendes), Things We Lost in the Fire is a bit unbalanced in its portrait of the repercussions of unexpected tragedy. The emotionally potent story from Allan Loeb at times hangs strongly onto intense human strife and having these leads adds a racial element to the mix.
Coping with the loss of a loved one, David Duchovny's Brian Burke is what draws Berry's Audrey and del Toro's Jerry slowly together. A very stable life for Audrey and Brian's family is brought usunder through a domestic dispute gone violent as the film flashes back for a while before proceeding in a more chronological avenue.
The drama is cued at a high pitch in the early sections as the Burke life was essentially ideally safe and comfortable before the change which triggers a void, clearly a kind of paralysis for a loving Audrey. Brian's excellence in real estate has kept Audrey and her two children, Harper and Dory, convincingly played by Alexis Llewllyn and Micah Berry, respectively.
Lawyer turned heroin junkie (now in recovery) Jerry responds to Audrey's kind invitation by attending the funeral, starts to provide information about childhood pal Jerry that his wife wasn't privvy to.
Sensing his affection and loss, a reluctant Audrey lets Jerry dwell in the garage converted into living space after a fire. Harper and Dory will come to accept the unlikely charming presence of a man who is a bit discomforted as they ponder their father's sudden death. Some may not accept how quickly Audrey in particular warms to Jerry.
The journey hits some rough patches as Jerry earns a realtor's license, and a support group member (Alison Lohman of Big Fish and White Oleander) turns Audrey onto the despair of an abruptly absent figure.
Bier's washed-out, hand-held lensing maybe stands out too much in a less than glamorous way, opposite of how Berry photogenically appears ironically in too many scenes. While Duchovny may be too elemental given his brief sporadic scenes and Berry perhaps unable to respond to the script like the intensity she brought (especially to the latter part) in Monster's Ball.
On the other hand, del Toro works quite well from the limitations of Loeb's screenplay in playing down the emoting of such a role that induces a wide range of emotion for an addict. He brings more of an intimacy instead of antipathy that might be felt as Jerry faces some somber, grim moments. Besides the collsion of dealing with addiction and death, Lohman endows a character well-meaninged in the positive change of a substance abuser. And, John Carroll Lynch displays the grief effectively as Brian's friendly neighbor Howard who also provides some welcome comic relief.
Things We Lost in the Fire is a combustible, yet finally upbeat grieving melodrama involved with its characters and its comfortably convincing Seattle setting shot in Vancouver.