Things We Lost in the Fire is a rather extraordinary film. Not only from a story and directing standpoint, but also that it had two Academy Award winners in the title roles and it shot through theaters in three weeks with nothing less than a whisper. Despite a wide opening of over a thousand theaters, the film made less than seven million worldwide—a strange result indeed for a film that was so packed with talent.
While the title isn’t representative of any actions or results in the film itself, it is an apt rewording of what happens to the Burke family. When Brian Burke (David Duchovny) is killed in a random act of violence, his wife, Audrey (Halle Berry) is distraught. With two kids to raise on her own, she finds comfort in Brian’s best friend from childhood, a struggling heroin addict named Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro). In an effort to remain close to her deceased husband, Audrey tells Jerry to move into their empty garage to add some sort of stability to the household.
The film is admittedly hard to nail down. With a robust cast that has everyone immediately likeable and a joy to watch, there’s no real villain here to hate and there’s no real message that the film attempts to send. To whittle it down to its core, Things We Lost in the Fire is nothing more than a well acted soap opera, yet it’s because of that acting that makes everything so interesting and riveting to watch.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently become a fan of Duchovny from his recent Showtime Californication series, but I was rather disappointed to see he was the one who died so early in the film. Thankfully through a series of flashbacks we see him (and not so thankfully, his eventual death) sharing moments with nearly all of the characters in the film that we grew attached to.
After watching nearly all of the Academy Award winning films this year, I was actually rather taken aback by Things We Lost in the Fire. The acting in the film was nothing short of superb and how Del Toro didn’t get a nomination for his role here I’m not sure. It’s an extremely well done film that I’m actually quite sad to have seen perform so poorly. Hopefully it’ll find a wider audience on DVD because, while the film is nothing that is required viewing, it is a shame that it wasn’t seen by more eyes. It’s a really strong film that anyone who enjoys a good drama can enjoy.
One element of the film I really enjoyed was the swaying back and forth between present and past. Normally this can be jarring in films, but even though the time changes aren’t noted, they’re so easily placed into the film that the viewer doesn’t feel confused or disjointed by their sudden appearance. It’s a really supremely crafted film in terms of pacing, directing, and acting and it truly is a shame that it wasn’t seen by a wider audience.
There are some particularly well done scenes between Del Toro and Berry here that certainly made the film. Berry trying to convince Del Toro she wanted to try heroine to help her escape was particularly hard to watch, as was Del Toro’s eventual relapse. In many ways Del Toro filled the role of the father after Duchovny’s character died, yet in the same sense Del Toro was simply their only connection left to Duchovny. It’s a rather confusing role he fills in terms of what it means to them, as it’s clear that he’s there just for support for Audrey, while the kids see him as more of a father figure. Even their neighbors get in on the action, with John Caroll Lynch playing a kind role in which he befriends Del Toro’s character. It was rather jarring to see Lynch in this role considering I’d last seen him in Zodiac, but I quickly got over the feeling of dread when I saw him on screen.
Though the characters in the film, aside from Del Toro, never seem to change, it is a finely crafted film that I’ve no doubt will find a wider audience on DVD. In this case it’s good to rent a title based on the talent involved, as they all bring their A-game to the film and make it truly wonderful. Recommended.
Things We Lost in the Fire arrives on single disc Blu-ray from Paramount in a standard Elite case. Simple disc art (gray wash, yay) and an easy to navigate menu accompany the pristine VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 transfer. It’s not really a type of film that screams the need to be seen in HD, but Paramount does their best to make the beautiful home and moody scenes as engrossing as possible. On top of that the close-up shots of del Toro were even more impressive than they were on DVD, which I thought was hyper detailed at the time…but now it’s even more so on Blu-ray. On the audio front we get a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track; surrounds don’t really get used much here except for the soundtrack, but this is hardly the film that warrants repeated use of surrounds.
Moving onto the extras we first hit upon “A Discussion of Things We Lost in the Fire” (20 minutes) is essentially a making-of documentary, but done in a way that’s less focused on the film itself and more of the characters and the feelings of those involved. The film is very emotional and to do a simple and technical making-of would have been an injustice to the film, so the warmer tone of the whole piece is much more appreciated, especially with the somber cast interviews who talk about their work on the film. Director Susanne Bier is especially vocal in this twenty-some minute extra and she expresses her feelings for the film in great detail.
Finally we move onto the deleted scenes, seven in all, most of which cover Jerry’s drug usage. What we get here is more of the same aspects that the film touched upon; only here it is in greater detail. It would have obviously felt repetitive in the film, so that is likely why it was cut—repeatedly hammering the same point home can certainly drag down a good film.
A theatrical trailer (in HD) wraps up the extras for this release. Sadly no commentary is included and the extras are barely thirty minutes in length. One would think Paramount would have tried to add more to this Blu-ray release, but instead we get a repeat performance of the same extras from the original release a year ago. Still what we get here is a nice and quiet set of extras that can only build ones appreciation for the film itself. Recommended.
Things We Lost in the Fire arrives on Blu-ray on March 24th.