Directed by Susanne Bier
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 118 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: March 4, 2008
Review Date: February 24, 2008
Susanne Bier’s Things We Lost in the Fire is all about the eyes. The director shoots close-ups of people’s eyes (or often just one eye) in such an irritating and repetitive fashion that it’s often hard to focus our eyes on what really counts: the story of two people struggling to overcome their personal demons and begin life anew. The characters are interesting, and the movie has much to recommend it, but the director’s mannered technique and the sometimes falsely manufactured drama for the characters could be off-putting for an impatient audience.
Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) answers a knock at her door one night learning from two uniformed police officers that her beloved husband Brian (David Duchovny) has been shot while in the act of saving a woman’s life. Their near-storybook marriage had been told in the film’s first half hour interspersed with scenes of Brian doing his best to come to the aid of his best friend with a serious heroin problem Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro). After Brian’s funeral, Audrey reaches out to the one person, Jerry, who can help her retain a piece of her deceased spouse. In some ways taking over for Brian in Jerry’s partial rehabilitation, Audrey sees Jerry growing closer to her friends (one even arranges a job for him) and to her children who both respond to him very positively.
In most films, this would be the story: Audrey overcoming her grief and starting life anew however tentatively with Jerry. In fact, with the personalities of the two actors involved and the natural chemistry they seem to have with each other, this seems the only plausible outcome of the situation, clichéd though it might be. But screenwriter Allan Loeb will have none of that. He throws up artificial barriers to their moving forward together, barriers that seem so deliberately frustrating to the audience that good will is almost destroyed thus nearly ruining the film’s crucial third act.
The two Oscar-winning stars have meaty roles to play. Berry is the less effective of the two seeming inconsistent in capturing the mix of emotions Audrey is attempting to handle. Del Toro’s performance is the corker here as he walks the narrow wire of sobriety for awhile (and showing such promise as a potential husband and stepfather) but later falling off to devastating effect undergoing a grueling (for him and the audience) montage of cold turkey withdrawal to kick his habit. David Duchovny has some very good early scenes as the tragic Brian (though the character might be too good to be true), and John Carroll Lynch as family friend Howard does stalwart and endearing work with a character which could have used a little more development. The two children played by Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry both give natural and believable performances.
It’s too bad Bier overdoes the close-ups. There are extreme emotions on display, and faces can reveal so much. But body language is often as great an indicator of conflict and inner turmoil as tension in the face or eyes. It may be her signature motif, but she relies on it far too often to the detriment of the drama.
The film’s Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in an outstanding anamorphic transfer. Sharpness is terrific throughout the presentation, and with all the close-ups, we see every crease and wrinkle there is to see. Color saturation is spot-on, and while some may feel the contrast is a bit too hot, I found it aided greatly in setting up and maintaining the starkness of the story being told. Only a bit of shimmer in some line structures prevents the image quality from earning the highest rating. The film is divided into 17 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is almost totally front centered. The film is dialog heavy, but even with that disclaimer, the surrounds are virtually silent through most of the movie.
“A Discussion about Things We Lost in the Fire” is a 20-minute overview of the film featuring interviews with producers Sam Mendes and Sam Mercer, director Susanne Bier, writer Allan Loeb, and actors Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, and David Duchovny, among others. It’s pretty much a fluff piece with everyone complimenting everyone else on a job well done. It’s presented in nonanamorphic widescreen.
7 deleted scenes can be played at once or individually. Together these nonanamorphic widescreen scenes run a total of 9½ minutes. One scene with Lynch quizzing Del Toro before he takes his real estate broker’s exam is interesting and possibly should have been included. The others would have added virtually nothing and were wisely excised.
The original theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs 2½ minutes.
The disc offers previews of the upcoming Beowulf, The Kite Runner, Shine a Light, and Margot at the Wedding.
Things We Lost in the Fire isn’t nearly as absorbing as it could have been, but the story and characters are gripping enough for the film to at least be worth a rental for those who enjoy their drama on the very somber side.