Shot Down

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE
Running Time 199 minutes
Directed by Susanne Bier
Written by Allan Loeb
Starring Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny

Susanne Bier’s Things We Lost in the Fire, from a screenplay by Allan Loeb, marks her English-language directorial debut in the U.S.; it’s a disappointment, after she entertained us with the lively and emotionally suspenseful Danish-language romantic comedy with a mordant twist, After the Wedding (2006). Things We Lost in the Fire is certainly not a comedy, but it is definitely mordant with its two Big Themes: Loss and Addiction, both treated in a singularly heavy-handed manner, for which I blame primarily Mr. Loeb’s screenplay. Ms. Bier tries to inject the anemic narrative with a semblance of psychological intensity through close-ups of people’s eyes as they contemplate the emotional vacuum around them. When the picture begins, Halle Berry’s Audrey Burke is more or less happily married to her easygoing husband, David Duchovny’s Brian Burke. In fact their only bone of contention is Brian’s continuing friendship with childhood buddy Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), a recovering heroin addict, who is enrolled in the local A.A. clinic. One night Brian sees a man beating a woman near a car, and after he pulls the man off the prostrate woman, and bends down to comfort the woman, the man pulls out a gun and shoots him, but not before we have seen the enraged man’s eyes in a close-up.

For some unfathomable reason, the bereft Audrey visits Jerry to ask him to move in with her and her two adorable children. Yet she still seems to retain her suspicious dislike of him even after she asks him to lie next to her so that she can fall asleep. This turns out to be nothing but a tease until Mr. Del Toro and Ms. Berry can take turns with their Oscar-seeking big scenes—for Mr. Del Toro a drug-denied agony after he has lapsed back with the heroin needle, and for Ms. Berry the long delayed explosion of grief, which begins with her beating her fists on Mr. Del Toro’s chest, before falling sobbingly into his arms. Mr. Del Toro’s heroics are reminiscent of Frank Sinatra’s in Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm (1955). Alison Lohman is wasted in a small role as a supportive presence for Mr. Del Toro in the A.A. clinic.

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