Movie Review: Nos souvenirs brûlés
By Michael Phillips, Tribune movie critic
The Danish director Susanne Bier makes her English-language filmmaking debut with "Things We Lost in the Fire," which reveals her to be fluent in the language of the glossy Hollywood drama. Now, most filmgoers will not care about who directed the film. They simply want to know if a glossy Hollywood drama about a recovering heroin addict played by Benicio Del Toro and a grieving widow played by Halle Berry is worth their time. It is, in fact. And the direction is a significant part of the reasons why.
Bier, whose previous film was the gripping melodrama "After the Wedding," keeps the thing honest. She shoots "Things We Lost in the Fire" in a style drawing from, among others, "Open Hearts," which she made according to the rough-hewn strictures of the Dogma school. "After the Wedding" retained much of that restless hand-held intimacy while calling less attention to the technique. "Things We Lost in the Fire" finds Bier at an interesting juncture, half-Dogmatic, half traditionalist.
Mainly, she's very good with actors. The film begins as do most dramas skirting the edges of grief-porn, with a loving family wracked by tragic loss. Audrey Burke, played by Berry, receives news that her husband (David Duchovny) has been killed while intervening in a street crime in progress. Their two children can barely process what has happened, and at the wake, Audrey seems to focus all her inchoate anger at her late husband's old friend Jerry (Del Toro).
She never understood their friendship. In Jerry, she sees a weak man who got handouts from her husband. "I hated you," she tells this recovering heroin addict, who moves uneasily among the mourners. "I hated you for so many years, Jerry." Then, for reasons she doesn't fully understand herself, Audrey invites Jerry to live with them for a while, until he gets back on his feet and re-establishes his law career. Jerry becomes a kind of surrogate uncle, a friend and comfort to Audrey, a jogging partner for the genial neighbor (John Carroll Lynch, so good as the prime suspect in "Zodiac") in the midst of a separation. And then other feelings creep into the house.
The film, which takes place in a plush, privileged world of wealth contrasting with Jerry's bare-bones existence, is very neatly laid out. "Schematic," you could call it. It was written by a former Chicago trader, Allan Loeb, who has knocked around L.A. for a decade. This is his first produced script, smooth and tidy, but with just enough tact, and just enough grit, to keep the story on planet Earth.
It's also consistently well-acted and, for a studio picture, pretty sharp on the subject of addiction and recovery and relapse. Del Toro and Berry make the very most of their push-and-pull relationship. They're complementary talents, these two - actors who must contend, especially in Bier's close-ups, with their own relentlessly photogenic charisma. Berry sometimes gives a scene 130 percent when 100 would do, but Bier doesn't push her into histrionics, and Del Toro knows how to play a flawed good man without qualifying him for sainthood.
"Things We Lost in the Fire"
Directed by Susanne Bier; screenplay by Allan Loeb; photographed by Tom Stern; edited by Pernille Bech Christensen and Bruce Cannon; music by Johan Soderqvist; production design by Richard Sherman; produced by Sam Mendes and Sam Mercer. A DreamWorks Pictures release. Running time: 1:59. MPAA rating: R (drug content and language).
Audrey - Halle Berry
Jerry - Benicio Del Toro
Brian - David Duchovny
Kelly - Alison Lohman
Neal - Omar Benson Miller
Howard - John Carroll Lynch