Saturday, November 3, 2007

Things We Lost in the Fire

What stood out the most in Things We Lost in the Fire, Danish filmmaker Suzanne Bier's first English-language film, was that Halle Berry has quite pretty ears. The reason this reasonates mostly is because a good amount of screen time is doted on Berry's face in extreme close-ups that the film could easily be mistaken for a skin care commercial at times. The rest of the film-- just a slightly false big screen melodrama of the kinds of stories easily seen on Lifetime Television. Berry portrays Audrey Burke, devoted mother and wife living in high-end American bliss, when a heinous act of violence shatters that security. Her saintly husband, Steven (David Duchovney) is killed. Steven's only flaw was that his best friend was Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), a heroin addict and all around mess, so after the murder, Audrey (who was always resentful of Jerry) invites him to live with her as she goes through the five stages. She cries, he relapses-- it's all very predictable and a bit stagnant, when it should be simmering with feeling. The problem with the film is that it just lingers with characters, and goes nowhere. The saving grace is Benicio Del Toro. Every jesture, every line reading all feels real and is fascinating to watch in a performance that probably shouldn't work, but this fearless actor won't let his character fall into the abyss of contrivance. He makes Jerry's addiction palpable and authentic, unlike everything else in the movie.
One thing I kept thinking about while watching this film was the 2001 French film Under the Sand, starring Charlotte Rampling as a middle-aged woman who lost her husband that grapples with grief and denial in such a chilling way-- in that film you truly get a sense of her pain and are completely mesmerized by why she can't go on, and can't even come to her senses. There was nothing like that here in Things We Lost in the Fire because the characters are for thing way too broadly drawn-- Steven is such a saint, you know off the bat something bad will befall him. When I thought about what brutal honesty Rampling was showing and watched Berry grapple with the similar, there was no contest because the script (or possibly Berry) doesn't allow Audrey really go to that darker, stranger place where the truth lies. But her ears are awful pretty. C

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