In her American debut, Danish director Susanne Bier tackles love, loss, jealousy, rage and recovery from drug addiction in a melodrama that unfolds slowly at the pace of a death march.
Over the years, successful Seattle real estate developer Brian Burke (David Duchovny) has remained friends with his childhood buddy, Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), a heroin addict, much to the chagrin of his uptight wife, Audrey (Halle Berry). But when Brian goes out for ice cream one night and is killed by a wife-abusing drunk, Audrey makes sure Jerry comes to the funeral, where he vows to quit drugs. Lost without a man around the house, Audrey invites him to move into an empty garage room that was damaged in an electrical blaze. While her precocious children a 10 year-old girl (Alexis Llewellyn) and six year-old boy (Micah Berry) – are delighted, shes ambivalent: kind and grateful one moment, rude and resentful the next.
Faced with overcoming Allan Loebs discordant, unrealistic, heavy-handed screenplay, Halle Berry tackles her first substantive role since her Oscar-winning turn in Monsters Ball. Problem is: her querulous, one-note widow has no backstory: no job, no friends, no interests except her children. So its Benicio Del Toros cleverly nuanced performance thats most memorable.
Director Susanne Bier cinematically interprets emotional intensity through endless close-ups of dark, sad eyeballs; this may be her austere European sensibility but it begins to resemble an ophthalmologists training film. When shes not examining eyes, Biers into an earlobe fetish, having Audrey invite Jerry into her bed to cure her insomnia by pulling on her earlobe. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Things We Lost in the Fire is an agonizingly morose, tedious 6, redeemed only by some remarkable acting.