Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday Movie Review: Things We Lost in the Fire

Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) 7/10
Audrey (Halle Berry) and Brian (David Duchovny) are happily married, but fight over Brian's friend Jerry (Benicio del Toro). Jerry is a drug addict whom Audrey distrusts, but Brian insists on helping. When Brian is killed, Jerry and Audrey need each other's help to mourn.

Things We Lost in the Fire is a beautiful movie, in that it is gorgeously filmed, and that it is about its characters, and doesn't go for easy answers. The thing that is most remarkable about the script here is that Jerry and Audrey are individuals, they are not "the widow" and "the junkie," and I think ninety percent of writers who attempted this script would make them exactly that.

On the down side, it's also a very self-conscious movie. For every exquisite shot, there's a look-at-me-I'm-exquisite shot. And while these look-at-me shots are genuinely beautiful, waving at the camera detracts from the story.

The same could be said for the script, with writing that occasionally underlines that the story will not play out in a conventional way. There is one conversation, between Jerry and one of the Burke children, that is more or less, "I want this story to follow conventional movie arcs." "But it won't." And it was smartly written, make no mistake, but a little obvious.

And yet, I am so touched by the vulnerability of these people. Audrey, who is wealthy and apparently competent, and strong and smart, all these things, and yet broken, and not broken because her husband died, but broken because she's a human being with parts that break, those parts we all have, and losing her husband removed all the veneer from the brokenness. Berry is at her best in these vulnerable roles. Give her a superhero or someone street smart to play and she's flat and relies on her beauty and a certain snappiness, but give her some pain and some weakness and she sinks deep into her huge round eyes and digs in. This is her best work since Monster's Ball.

Del Toro, on the other hand, really isn't an uneven actor. He's always this good. And Duchovny? I have no idea why he gets as much work as he does, but he doesn't detract.

The pacing is slow, sometimes glacial, but it works. This isn't an action movie, it's a story of healing, and of not healing, and it's lovely.

(Things we lost in the cross-post)