Monday, October 29, 2007

Things We Lost In the Fire

Benicio Del Toro is one of the best actors of his generation. Or any generation for that matter. If he had stared in silent films decades ago, he would have been a star. It’s amazing to see how much the camera agrees with his face. His crinkled forehead and his baggy eyes can stress emotion more than any word. From his humorous, star-making turn in The Usual Suspects, to his breathtaking, Oscar-winning role in Traffic, the man is a significantly reliable star.

He’s also the best thing about his new movie, Things We Lost In the Fire, a film from Danish director, Susanne Bier. Although Halle Berry earns top billing, it’s Del Toro that steals the film. Berry plays Audrey, a recently widowed woman who begins to form a friendship with her husband’s best friend, Jerry, who Audrey has hated for years. Jerry lives in the slums of town, trying to feed his heroin addiction. Audrey disapproves when her royal husband Steven (a consistently useful David Duchovny) visits Jerry occasionally, trying to rekindle some of their childhood friendship.

After Steven is shot dead running a family errand, Audrey loses herself to loneliness. With two kids to support, she becomes entangled with the simple things. Cleaning up toys, eating breakfast, every undemanding task becomes a troublesome chore. Audrey asks Jerry to come and shack up in the garage of her lavish home. He tries to stay clean, helps with the kids around the house, and forms relationships all around.

From here on Audrey and Jerry will grow on each other and eventually fall in love. Wrong. Fire avoids most clich├ęs and presents itself as a powerful character study on loss and life. Bier does a great job examining every aspect of the grieving process through Audrey, with some initial denial, several bits of anger (mostly geared toward Jerry), bargaining with Jerry’s company, being depressed over her loss and, thankfully, some harrowing acceptance.

Not since Traffic have Narcotics Anonymous meetings been portrayed with such harsh authenticity. The crowded circles and smoked-filled air present memorable moments of haunting struggle.

The film does suffer a few troublesome flaws. Bier uses an annoying amount of extreme close-ups on her characters. You’ll think you are in optometrist, conducting a few too many eye exams. There is also a distractingly out of place scene in which Audrey tells Jerry that she craves something. Berry stretches a little too hard to reach her Monster’s Ball ferociousness, and the scene plays out as an unbelievable mess.

The film is ultimately saved with every other interaction between Berry and Del Toro. Their first moment on screen together is the highlight of the film, nothing short of incredible, they say very little, their pain is immeasurable. But it is Del Toro commanding a fearless, gut wrenching performance (he sets a new standard for the detox scene) that remains etched into my head.

Things We Lost in the Fire has the good fortune of being scored with themes from the great Gustavo Santaolalla (who, with Babel, proved how effortlessly film and music can harmoniously merge). The music helps to illuminate the film’s tenderness. The flawless delivery of the final lines moved me to tears. I’ll never tell what they are but the words are repeated several times and with each repetition, the entire meaning of the film is beautifully reiterated. A

2 comments:

  1. Glad to see someone else highlight this film. I recently reviewed it on my blog.

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    1. I really enjoyed this one, although I haven't seen it in a while. Will give your review a read in a bit. Thanks for the comment!

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