This may be Danish director Susanne Bier's first American film but thankfully she hasn't let the Hollywood machine tarnish her style. With a string of quite remarkable films under her belt, including 2004's 'Brothers' (currently being remade by Jim Sheridan), Bier has already established a clear style. She walks the line between realistic human emotion and melodrama, without crossing it.
Allan Loeb's story 'Things We Lost in the Fire' follows young Seattle mother Audrey (Berry), paralysed by grief following the death of her husband Brian (Duchovny). She turns to his best friend Jerry (del Toro) for support; a heroin addict who has hit rock bottom. Together they help each other to find hope. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it sounds schmaltzy and akin to every other shameless heartstring plucker out there but you'd be mistaken.
The strong cast, led by Benicio del Toro, ensures that the drama stands tall. He gives a frighteningly realistic portrayal of the villain and hero of the piece; an addict who desperately wants to but can't shake the monkey from his back. It's rare to see del Toro in a role that has challenged him since his Oscar winning turn in 2000's 'Traffic' but this comes very close.
Given the fact that her character is embroiled in tear-jerking drama most of the time and is not very likeable the rest, Halle Berry isn't half bad either. She has shed the histrionics which have dominated some of her past roles and is very believable, as a young, grieving widow. Also, it's depressing how well the woman can look, no matter what the circumstances.
Although dead for the duration of the film, David Duchovny's brief performance during the flashback sequences are enough for him to make a lasting impression and embed the sense of loss needed to believe in the film. The supporting cast are equally impressive, with a very likeable turn from both 'The Big White's Alison Lohman and 'Zodiac's John Carroll Lynch. He's hung up his suspect killer hat for this role as the straight talking but meek neighbour, Harold.
Director Bier's style is evident throughout the film in the leisurely pace, natural lighting and lingering camera shots, which gives the would-be weepy an atypical Hollywood feel. However some of the lengthy shots do outstay their welcome in this contemplative drama, which clocks in at almost two hours. As lovely as she is, the endless shots of Berry's flawless face mean that it gets to the stage where you're waiting for her to blurt out her Revlon tag: "...Be Unforgettable."
Thinking back over the film's key themes of grief, loss and addiction, the message is clear; it's all too easy to presume negative things about people whom we don't know, easier still drug addicts living on the fringe of society. Ignorance and fear feed those thoughts and this film exposes them.
Although the didactic title of the film could do with being more relevant, the film's motto could be the new 'Pay it Forward' for 2008. So look beyond the thought that 'Things We Lost in the Fire' is a thinly veiled weepy and prepare for strong themes and even stronger performances. Accept The Good.