Things We Lost in the Fire is the American debut of the acclaimed Danish director, Susanne Bier (After the Wedding). It is a brutal and intense depiction of grief and recovery.
Halle Berry plays Audrey Burke, a woman living a privileged life in the Seattle area with her two children and husband Brian (David Duchovny). On a typical ice cream run on an ordinary evening, Brian is shot to death trying to intercede between a man beating his wife on the street. Berry is understandably devestated as is Brian's best friend since childhood Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), a drug-addict whom Audrey resents because Brian refused to give up on him. But fate brings them together because they both loved Brian the most. Audrey brings Jerry into their home giving them both a second chance.
Bier spends a lot time focusing on her characters and their raw emotions. There are multiple close-ups of Berry's eyes and face, and these close-ups enhance the rawness of their emotions.
Both Berry and Del Toro are terrific, especially Del Toro. His scenes of a drug relapse and then detox are brutally real and hard to watch.
Even though Berry won the Oscar for Monster's Ball and is one of the top film actresses, she still has to fight for this role. "I think most actors have to fight for the good parts...they're so few and far between, especially for women. Audrey wasn't written as a black character, so I wasn't the first thought on anyone's mind."
Bier was nervous that in coming to America, she wouldn't have the same artistic freedom that she enjoyed in Denmark. But she was proved wrong: "coming to America, I was expecting that I would experience certain restraints, like being asked to make the movie more mainstream, but in fact it was quite the opposite," she says. "I received comments like, 'be more courageous, be more daring...make it more dangerous.'" (Since these quotes come from the press materials I think they are probably a bit generous.)
Bier is a top-tier artist and we should all welcome her with open arms into American theatres. The film opens in 1,142 theatres today.