Things We Lost in the Fire
Directed by Susanne Bier. Starring Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alexis Llewellyn, Micah Berry, John Carroll Lynch, Alison Lohman, Robin Weigert. (2007, R, 119 min.)
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Oct. 19, 2007
If you’re bored some Saturday night, try this game: Close your eyes, spin around three times, and point a finger at Del Toro’s résumé. Dollars to doughnuts, you’re going to land on one of the better acting performances of the last 20 years. Basquiat. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Traffic. 21 Grams. Big Top Pee-wee. He can do it all. Yet somehow, with Things We Lost in the Fire, he’s managed to top even himself; this most recent performance is right up there with the best screen turns, not just of his generation but of all time: Brando in On the Waterfront. Hopkins in Nixon. Washington in Training Day. Rarefied air. In Danish director Bier’s excellent new film, Del Toro plays Jerry Sunborne, a fortysomething junkie living in squalor in downtown Seattle who’s forced to re-examine his life after the violent death of his best and only friend, Steven Burke (the perpetually somnolent Mr. Duchovny). Burke’s wife, Audrey (Berry), never trusted Jerry even when her husband was alive, but she decides to call on him after realizing that raising two kids alone in her emotional state may be an impossible task. Things We Lost in the Fire is Bier’s first English-language film and her follow-up to the Oscar-nominated After the Wedding, and like that film, it’s an impeccably constructed and perfectly paced drama of domestic and internal volatility. The film’s first 20 minutes play out in nonchronological fits and bursts, as befits the memories of those whose lives have been turned upside-down by an act of random brutality. After the oddly calming presence of Jerry descends upon the Burke household, however, Bier tosses out the formal experimentation in favor of a more traditional narrative approach that allows us the chance to bask in the slow boil of two great actors at the peak of their powers. Berry is brilliant here, as good as she’s ever been, drifting from agony to wonder and down into despair with ease. Watch her lash out blindly at Jerry for being too good to her kids for fear they’ll forget their father; you’ll never see a more stunning demonstration of how, in the capable hands of an artist, you can love, loathe, and pity a character all at the same time. In the end, though, this movie belongs to Del Toro. He imbues Jerry with such life, such ambiguity, such unsentimental complexity and depth that you can’t help but feel you’re watching the most intricately mapped depiction of addiction and strained humanity the film world has ever given us.