With depth and unblinking intensity, Things We Lost in the Fire explores human connection, dependency, love, selflessness, and jealousy, focused in the aftermath of a tragic death. The main characters’ pain, mixed motivations, and confused needs intertwine, eliciting empathy and identification, yet the film doesn’t give simple answers. Instead, we share in the characters’ confusion, not at first understanding what they do. Throughout, Fire’s excellent, if sometimes unconventional, filmcraft draws us into the film’s world and, if we look closely, we can see our struggles reflected in theirs.
Brian is dead. He left behind his wife, Audrey, and their young son and daughter, Dory and Harper. On the day of his funeral, Audrey remembers that she has neglected to tell Jerry, a long-time friend of Brian’s who lives in a dangerous part of the city. Down on his luck, Jerry has no phone, so Audrey’s brother drives there to bring him to the funeral. Missing Brian terribly as she does, and knowing how much Jerry meant to Brian, Audrey wants Jerry to stay for the family dinner after. She had been jealous of Brian helping Jerry, and maybe she can hold on to something of Brian — and assuage some of her jealous guilt — by continuing his care for Jerry. But it’s a blurry path, littered with unexpected emotional turns and dependencies. Running time: 118 min.
It is, of course, nothing new for a film to center on grief after a loved one’s death, but Fire has a unique set of elements mixed in, allowing it to ask a wider range of questions beyond how to deal with loss. Brian and Jerry’s relationship, together with its effect on Audrey, is the most direct and visible of these, although there are several others. How do love and loyalty play across the multiple relationships in our lives? When is a claim on our spouse’s time proper and when is it self-centered? What does jealousy say about the true nature of our love? How should our choices consider our theoretical rights versus our spouse’s perceived or real needs? When life brings needy people to us, how shall we decide what we can give to help? Far beyond being a tale of strong love grieving loss, Things We Lost in the Fire asks hard questions about the nature of what we call love.
From the first moments, Fire’s filmcraft is superb, particularly Halle Berry’s conflicted portrayal of Audrey and the air of introspective restraint that comes through in Benicio del Toro’s Jerry. Interjections of flashbacks are well-timed, as are shot framings and cuts in current day action, such as the moment that Jerry is introduced (as the family asks, “Who’s Jerry Sunborne?” we cut without explanation or dialog to his arrival, allowing his introduction to develop over time, to greater effect). The screenplay's parallels and reversals, as well as the characters' weaknesses, struggles, and choices, create a compelling flow across the story's arc. Camera angles and detailed shots give us opportunity to connect more deeply with the characters (although director Susanne Bier's extreme closeups bother some, I think they work). Johan Söderqvist's music is wonderful throughout and especially strong in certain places with lightly played, pensive music where others may have gone sentimental.
The time you spend with Things We Lost in the Fire will be well worth it. But you should go in expecting that, like us, the characters actions are not always consistent or easily understandable — that's part of the process they are going through.
The film has intense scenes of grief. Drug use and addiction play a heavy role in the film, including withdrawals, close-ups of needles, and drug dens. Strong language is common, including sexual talk and joking around. Some fighting and a quick bit of gunplay.
- Director: Susanne Bier
- Screenplay: Allan Loeb
- Leads: Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alexis Llewellyn, Micah Berry, John Carroll Lynch, Omar Benson Miller, Alison Lohman
- Cinematography: Tom Stern
- Music: Johan Söderqvist
- Info on IMDb
- Reviews on Rottentomatoes (64%)
- Reviews on Metacritic (63 of 100)
- Review on Christianity Today Movies (3 of 4)
- Review on Reelviews.net (3.5 of 4)
- Review (with notable spoilers) on Film School Rejects (grade: A)
- Review by Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan)
- Review on Crosswalk
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