Sun 30 Mar 2008
Bring Kleenex … lots of Kleenex.
Best Actress (Halle Berry)
Score (Gustavo Santaolalla & Johan Söderqvist)
Sometimes, I see a film coming – one with so much power, depth and heartache … that I put it on a shelf, far, far away. I know that the film will wreck me, force me to feel so deeply that I won’t know what to do.
That was exactly the case with “Things We Lost in the Fire”. Susanne Bier is my absolute favorite director, always bringing tremendously heartbreaking, powerful and intelligent stories to life on-screen. Let’s put it this way, the ONE film out of her last four that I would NOT give a 5 out of 5 to is 2006′s “After the Wedding“, which earned a paltry 4 out of 5.
She is somehow able to take these beautiful, challenging stories and present them in a way that doesn’t allow the audience to look away – to not feel for (and with) the characters. I can’t think of a director that has been able to bring such conviction to their films as consistently as Bier. I treat her films like an album from a favorite singer … I don’t need to hear any songs, I’m going to buy it … I know that I’m going to get exactly what I want and that it’s going to live up to my expectations. And once again, Bier has delivered.
In the film, Benicio Del Toro plays a heroin addict, who’s the childhood and lifelong best friend of David Duchovny, a successful developer who has never given up on Del Toro – even with the drug issues. Duchovny has married Halle Berry and they’ve begun to raise two children. A random act of violence leaves Berry widowed and searching for a way to deal with her grief and move on with her life.
What happens from there is a roller coaster of ups and downs, as each character must navigate their way through their pain towards a brighter path. One of the many things that separates “Things We Lost in the Fire” from a typical look at such a tragedy is its inclusion of all the characters.
Sure, Berry and Del Toro are the focus. Each has a different kind of pain they are trying to manage and their performances are up to the task. While Del Toro rarely fails to deliver powerhouse performances, I’m generally worried about Halle Berry when it comes to dramatic roles. I used to see “Monster’s Ball” as a bit of a fluke – since most of her work consists of lower quality material like “B.A.P.S.”, “Gothika” or “Catwoman”. That preconception does have to change now that I’ve seen this film.
Her portrayal of a widow, not only forced to deal with the loss of her beloved husband but also strive to help her children through it, is marvelous. Berry managed to make each scene as important as any other, not simply saving it for the big Oscar-type monologue. The pain she wears on her sleeve is mesmerizing and heartbreaking.
Del Toro is equally, if not even more so, amazing. Not only does he have to exhibit all of the pain and physical symptoms that go along with heroin addiction/withdrawal, and deal with the loss of his best friend, he has to interact with his best friend’s kids – who are beginning to see him as a replacement for their father. Toeing that line is a mighty big task, but Del Toro is up to it.
To help him along that task are two very fine child actors, Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry. They are the lynch pins to the whole process. If they fail to convey the confusion, sadness and anger that’s involved in losing a parent, the whole film falls apart. I give them credit for not only being good in regards to actors of their age range, but in being able to stand up to the likes of Berry and Del Toro.
Like the children, all of the supporting cast are up to the task. John Carroll Lynch, Alison Lohman and Omar Benson Miller help to complete the picture, keeping the film from being too myopic in scope. Their performances enlighten us to the other elements of the main characters, fleshing them out to make them truly complete.
All of the acting aside, a great film must also have great people behind the scenes making it all happen. From the script (Allan Loeb), to the production design (Richard Sherman) to the music (Gustavo Santaolalla and longtime Bier collaborator, Johan Söderqvist), all of the elements come together to make the film as great as it is.
“Things We Lost in the Fire” is a film that will grab you right from the beginning and hold onto you long after the credits roll. Unless you truly cannot handle what great drama delivers, you owe it to yourself to see this film. A 5 out of 5, I’m going to have to figure out how to re-rank/asterisk the 2007 Golden Mugs because this is climbing right to the top.