October 22, 2007

One Junkie, One Widow, Some Kids

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It’s good to see Halle Berry venturing out to take on serious roles again, rather than settling for easy summer popcorn flicks. She went from Oscar to Razzie in one click of the button when she portrayed Catwoman. Now she’s proving why flashing your chest in a raunchy sex scene just isn’t enough to take home the golden statue. The film also marks the triumphant return to the silver screen of Benicio Del Toro, an actor who has of late has taken a Chris Tucker-like absence from filming movies. Benicio has always had a solid screen presence, in this case displaying real heart as a doped up junkie at rock bottom, and he remains, as always, a pleasure to watch.

Together these two tell a heart-warming story of the struggle to overcome tragedy and addiction through mutual support. Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) and Jerry Sunborne (Benico Del Toro) are from opposite worlds, but are brought together by the death of Audrey’s husband, Steven (David Duchovny) who is Jerry’s life-long best friend. Following Steven’s death, Audrey reaches out to Jerry, a man she had long despised as constantly relapsing heroin addict, to move in and help her through this harrowing time.

Things We Lost In The Fire is oriented in a captivating manner that is contrary to other films dealing with similar subject matter. Rather going from point A to point B (establishing David Duchovny is living, then murdered and jumping to the aftermath) we jump back and forth from the present to the past. This happens in the first third of the film, and after that we stay in the present. Through these flashbacks Steven is alive and we learn of his great contributions to his friends and family, and why his death was so shattering for those around him.

The one problem I had with this structure was that it was a bit convoluted, and it is sometimes unclear at which point in time certain scenes take place. It’s only after a few scenes of this style that you realize and pick up on the pattern. I felt it spent too much time focusing on the remnants of Steven’s life, ultimately leading the end to drag on and create the necessity for a lot of jump cuts in the progression of time.

The film at times has brief and subtle glitches when something in the scene just seems out of place resulting in questionable moments within the story. Steven’s past, told in the flashbacks, not only focuses on him but reveals Audrey’s distaste towards Jerry as well as the peaks and troughs in the lives of these characters. Despite his wife’s opinion of Jerry, Steven still balances his family life and friendship with Jerry. Even though Jerry’s a bum and junkie, Steven’s compassion is inspiring to watch.

Halle Berry’s performance as Audrey was sensational to watch. She displayed a wide range of emotions that reflected a totally accurate depiction of someone suffering from the anguish of grief. In despair, Audrey is gloomy and struggles to have the strength to go on with the rest of her life. Audrey grieves with the five steps as it all builds up to her tumultuous outburst of anger in the arms of Jerry. As much as Audrey leans on Jerry for support, Jerry relies comparatively on Audrey to help him overcome his heroin addiction. Del Toro’s eyes show compassion and fire as his struggle from within becomes apparent on the outside when he’s detoxing and trying to cope with the loss of his best friend. Desperate for help and appreciative of Audrey’s kindness, when Audrey spirals downward asking for heroin, Jerry reciprocates wisely by giving her the same help and care she has shown to him, denying her that troublesome road.

Their shared grief for Steven brings Audrey and Jerry together to face their fears by leaning on one another. It’s not just them by themselves though, as Audrey’s kids, Harper and Dory, help both of them. These two are adorable and innocent as through their naïve nature help Audrey and Jerry to let go of the past proving that hope is there.

Things We Lost In The Fire gathers steam as the story advances, telling the story of finding the strength to overcome struggles and ultimately enter a mindset of acceptance to live the rest of our lives. The acting is brilliant as Berry and Del Toro’s chemistry on screen is believable and sincere as Berry doesn’t bust out the twins for a cheap thrill for the perverted audiences who see her just for that reason. Aside from a few capricious and arbitrary segments the touching acting performances alone make you sit and take notice.