A refreshingly adult drama, although not so much for racy content, Things We Lost in the Fire favors instead a complex emotional landscape, mature themes and erudite execution.
Although the focal relationships pair Halle Berry with David Duchovny and Benicio Del Toro, respectively, it’s class that’s the conflict here rather than race. After 11 years of marriage, architect Brian Burke (Duchovny) and his wife Audrey (Berry) live happily and comfortably with their two adorable and precocious kids in the Pacific Northwest. (If first-time writer Allan Loeb’s script has a flaw, it’s in this too-idyllic lifestyle.) Constantly at issue, however, is Brian’s continuing friendship with Jerry Sunborne (Del Toro), a childhood pal whose career as a lawyer has been sidelined by addiction. “I hated you,” Audrey tells Jerry. “He was loyal to a fault. Most people would have given up on you.”
“Was loyal,” past tense, because Brian is killed in a random act of violence early on. In the film’s fractured structure, Brian is never actually present, appearing in flashbacks as Danish director Susan Bier (After the Wedding) metes out information about the family’s life together and his fate amid scenes from his funeral and oblique dialogue that declines to pander.
Audrey in her grief seeks Jerry out—for comfort, for redemption—and invites him to move into a guestroom adjacent to their garage. He’s no substitute for Brian as a husband, father or their neighbor’s running partner, but in a way Audrey and the kids can offer Jerry something Brian never could: recovery.
Although in her Hollywood debut she eschews the Dogma 95 principles that characterized her early work, Bier does bring her trademark close-ups that traverse the unpolished granite of Del Toro’s countenance until he looks as if lit from within, like the fluorescent pool that marks our first introduction to Brian. Translated, too, is Bier’s fascination with the impact of extreme and unexpected situations on the human condition, communicated in underplayed moments heart-breaking in their simplicity.
Cast: Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alison Lohman, Omar Benson Miller and John Carroll Lynch
Director: Susanne Bier
Screenwriter: Allan Loeb
Producers: Sam Mendes and Sam Mercer
Rating: R for drug content and language
Running time: 119 min.
Release date: October 19, 2007