Things We Lost In The Fire review

Part way through Danish director Susanne Bier’s English-language follow-up to the Oscar-nommed After The Wedding, Halle Berry’s Audrey asks, “Do you ever feel like you’re inside a sad movie?” Not really – though we sure know when we’re watching one. Kicking off with a funeral, this downbeat portrait of grief, loss and drug dependency puts you through an emotional meat grinder, with only a slender sliver of feel-good to look forward to after almost two hours of guilt and recrimination.

Working from a script by Allan Loeb, Bier’s film revolves around two broken individuals struggling to rebuild their shattered lives. One, Berry’s character, is a widowed mother of two unable to deal with losing her husband Brian (David Duchovny) in a senseless act of violence. The other, Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), is a junkie pal of Brian’s whose attendance at his burial initiates a testy relationship with Berry. It’s a pairing founded on their love for the deceased and her two children.

By helping Jerry kick his addiction, can Audrey finds a way of keeping her hubby’s spirit alive? Bier tries to make things more complex, but that’s essentially the story in a nutshell – complete with one of those touchy-feely endings they wouldn’t dare include in one of the Dogme-influenced dramas with which she made her name (Open Hearts, Brothers). Nor would the Duchovny character be quite the saint he’s depicted as in the movie’s rose-tinted flashbacks (he even dies as a have-a-go hero). These are the compromises you make when you try to dovetail your rigorous, in-your-face style with a mainstream Hollywood story. Oh well: at least Del Toro convinces, his raddled physiognomy and bleary peepers given no respite from DoP Tom Stern’s relentlessly intimate close-ups.

Berry's first stab at heavy drama since Monster's Ball is a worthy (read: slightly dreary) vehicle for the X-Men star. But when Benicio Del Toro is in the driving seat, it ticks most of the boxes you'd expect from a mainstream weepie.

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