The best film of 2007 no one saw. Danish director Susanne Bier makes her American debut with this intricately human drama about loss and redemption, two themes that often get simplistic treatment from American films. Things We Lost in the Fire separates itself from other movies dealing with tragedy in the modern day suburban family, including downer fare like House of Sand and Fog, by respecting the emotions of its characters.
Bier uses Tom Stern’s fluid hand held images and Johan Soderqvist’s classical score to heighten the complex relationship between widowed housewife Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) and her husband Brian’s (David Duchovny) heroine addict childhood friend Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro). The two are thrust together after Brian’s tragic murder, both floundering under the pressures of life without the man they both loved. Bier treats each scene with a sincerity for the material, seamlessly building Jerry’s interactions with Brian’s children (Dory and Harper) and neighbors without pandering.
The film is so strong at eliciting feeling from the simple moments: Dory ducking his head under water for the first time, Harper shooting a basketball, or Audrey’s longing for a familiar sleeping position. Even though these people fall apart emotionally, the film never lets them descend into gratuitous disarray. Berry and Del Toro produce a chemistry which transcends romance and ends up closer to necessity. Both have never been better. By the end, Things We Lost in the Fire leaves you with a sense of strength and appreciation for the process of life, and not being completely consumed by death as the end result.