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Things We Lost in the Fire

On Friendship

Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, Brothers), who is emerging as a powerful director of international acclaim, explores several things in her outstanding new film Things We Lost in the Fire: grief, addiction, love and, most of all, friendship. Creating star turns for Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro, this is a movie you will remember long after the credits roll.

Things We Lost in the Fire opens in the midst of sorrow. Audrey (Berry) has already lost her husband Steven (David Duchovny) to tragic circumstances and is planning his funeral. At the last minute she remembers that she has forgotten to inform one of Steven's closest friends, Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), of his death. Through various flashbacks you discover that he is a down and out junkie who has long been a thorn in her side; she has never understood the nature of their friendship.

But, as you find out, Steven and Jerry are lifelong friends who have known one another since childhood. As Steven tells Audrey one night after she confronts him about Jerry, "He's my friend. He looks out for me. He's my friend." Bier reveals the depth of their friendship through Steven's obvious dedication and loyalty and Jerry's subtle attentiveness. It seems that he has remembered and held onto every word Steven has ever uttered, from insignificant details about his children to major insecurities about his marriage. The knowledge of these facts is dispersed throughout the film until you fully realize that, although he may seem like a total and complete fuck-up, Jerry respected and cherished his friendship.

Accordingly, Jerry comes to the funeral and for reasons that she does not quite comprehend, Audrey brings him into the fold of their family. Maybe she does it out of guilt for all those times that she urged Steven to give up on his friend. Maybe she does it out of obligation because it's what Steven would have wanted. Or maybe she's so desperate that she would do anything to be near any connection to her dead husband. Either way, Jerry's presence helps through the sheer force of the fact that he has already reached rock-bottom; when you're that low, it makes it better to be with someone worse off than you.

There are moments in Things We Lost in the Fire that are devastating in both their tenderness and their grief. You get glimpses of Audrey and Steven's idyllic life in Seattle with their two children through poignant memories that are handled with just the right amount of emotion and gravitas. Likewise, Jerry's struggle with his heroin addiction is acutely intense; it should be noted that Del Toro's performance is absolutely mindblowing. Bier displays the same tight direction and control that she utilized in After the Wedding -- intimate close-ups that focus on faces, hands, eyes, and even ears so that they are no longer merely parts of a body but vehicles for conveying inexpressible emotions. The script from first time film writer Allan Loeb is nuanced and engaging, and although it relies heavily on flashbacks it neither confuses nor deters the momentum of the film.

One criticism is that, at times, the film seems a little too similar to 21 Grams. This could be because of Del Toro (who was in both films) or that the two movies also feature a grieving woman who loses members of her family to tragic circumstances. Another criticism is that a few plot turns come off a little too tidily. The fact that everyone just immediately takes to Jerry is a prime example of this. Something like that happens in sitcoms, not in movies that want to come off as realistic.

Nonetheless, Things We Lost in the Fire is a not-to-be-missed film. Don't be surprised if both Del Toro and Berry get nominated for Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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