Saturday, October 27, 2007

Things We Lost in the Fire (2007, Susanne Bier)

Yeesh, would someone please cheer Susanne Bier up already? A veteran of the Dogma 95 movement, Bier has become to grief what Von Trier once was to martyrdom, although without his experimental tendencies or bad-little-boy sense of humor. With her American debut, Bier examines the fallout from the death of Brian (David Duchovny), in particular the effect it has on his wife Audrey (Halle Berry) and his heroin-addicted best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro). It would be affecting stuff if it didn't feel so programmatic- Audrey resents Jerry but has him move in, he stops taking drugs, he endears himself to her kids, she kicks him out, he falls off the wagon, she rescues him, and so on. In addition, Bier overdoes the extreme-closeups- eyes, hands, ears, mouths, and the like. These shots become too insistent in a story that's already plenty melodramatic. The same might be said of Berry's performance, which is pretty good in her lower-key moments but descends into histrionics whenever the grief hits her. Much better is Del Toro, who is as good here as he's been in anything since Traffic. There's a scene where Jerry tries to kiss Audrey, perhaps out of gratitude, but she recoils, and Del Toro throws in a small gesture in which he places two fingers over his lips. It's an inspired touch, and I don't doubt that it was Del Toro's idea. I also liked his scenes with John Carroll Lynch, as a neighbor and friend of Audrey's who's facing his own private hell, a loveless marriage. Del Toro is one of Hollywood's best and most inspired performers, but gets precious few chances to show it, although I'm grateful that he hasn't taken to making schlock like Nicolas Cage, a similarly inspired actor who too often spins his wheels. Del Toro never steps wrong here, and any flaws this movie has are counterbalanced by his performance. Rating: 5 out of 10.

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