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Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/4/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/3/2008
I would venture to guess that when most people think of fans of alternative or "art-house" movies, they picture an older, more refined person. However, I was the exact opposite. It was in my younger years that I sought out films by David Lynch, The Coen Brothers, and ventured to smaller theaters to see things like Heavenly Creatures or Hard Bolied. (I realize that some, or possibly none of those things seem very alternative now, but they were at the time.) In short, I had no interest in the mainstream movies my friends were seeing. My, how times have changed. I now have little patience for arty films, even when they feature familiar faces, such as Things We Lost in the Fire.
As Things We Lost in the Fire opens, we meet Audrey Burke (Halley Berry) and her two children, Harper (Alexis Llewellyn) and Dory (Micah Berry). Audrey immediately learns that her husband, Brian (David Duchovny), has been murdered while trying to break up a domestic dispute. While preparing for the funeral, Audrey sends her brother, Neal (Omar Benson Miller), to inform Brian's best friend, Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), of the death, as Jerry has no phone. Jerry comes to the funeral and mingles with Brian and Audrey's friends. We soon learn that Jerry had been friends with Brian since childhood and that he lost his law career due to his heroin addiction. Despite the fact that Jerry's life had taken a turn for the worst, Brian never abandoned him and this infuriated Audrey.
Yet, following Brian's death, she's lost and confused and she invites Jerry to move in. So, he occupies the garage, which was remodeled following a fire (hence one meaning of the title). As Audrey attempts to adjust to being a widow, Jerry deals with sober living in the suburbs. They will soon learn that one can't overcome immense obstacles alone.
We've recently seen a spate of films which take a fairly straight-forward narrative and, through editing, present it in a non-linear form.Into the Wild used this technique well and Memento practically redefined filmmaking by telling its story backwards. But, this method can also backfire, as in 21 Grams, where the art got in the way of the story. Something similar happens in Things We Lost in the Fire.
Having not read the original script, I'm not sure if Director Susanne Bier or Writer Allan Loeb is to blame (or possibly both), but Things We Lost in the Fire drops the ball from the beginning. The film opens by telling us that Brian is dead before we meet him. Despite the fact that we see that Audrey and the kids are distraught, we are left numb. Who's Brian? Why should we care? Through flashbacks, we see that Brian was a friendly giving person, a good father, and a seemingly fun guy. However, by this point, the damage has been done. Then we have Audrey's character, who is highly unlikable. Yes, she's just gone through a horrific ordeal and she has every right to be angry, but Audrey is hard on everyone. The movie may also lose some audience members with the plot point that despite her husband's death, Audrey is financially secure and will never have to work a day in her life. That doesn't make us feel any more sorry for her.
If you can muscle your way through the first half of the film, the second half is a bit more rewarding. This is where the film's true theme comes into play. Just as Audrey is difficult to like in the beginning, Jerry is inscrutable. He appears to be miserable at the Burke house, and yet he gets along with everyone. The third act really begins to explore how Audrey is dealing with losing her husband while Jerry must deal with giving up heroin. These two occurrences may seem distant at first, but both include a grieving process and the necessity of learning to live again. The message is a bit heavy-handed at times, but it's a unique take on the kind of sad ideas which inhabit films of this ilk.
Patient viewers may eventually feel rewarded by Things We Lost in the Fire but at 2 hours, the film meanders on the way to its point. Director Bier is Danish and the film certainly has a European feel as it doesn't rush to get anywhere. I can't help but think that if we'd gotten to know Brian at first, just a little bit, then his death would have had more of an impact. Granted, this isn't his story, but the film's beginning is quite abrupt. Is this meant to mirror the jarring effect which Audrey feels? That's a good question, but the bottom line is that Things We Lost in the Fire is a drama which doesn't engage the viewer until the final act.
Things We Lost in the Fire ignites DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is good, as the image is sharp and clear. The picture shows no overt grain and there are no defects from the source material. The colors are good and the image is never overly dark or bright. I did note some obvious video noise at times, and there is also a small amount of edge enhancement present. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very quiet, dialogue driven film, so we don't get much at all in the way of surround or subwoofer effects. There is a scene where rain fills the surround speakers that is somewhat impressive.
The Things We Lost in the Fire DVD sports only a few bonus features. "A Discussion About Things We Lost in the Fire" (20 minutes) features Director Susanne Bier, Writer Allan Loeb, Producer Sam Mendes, Producer Sam Mercer, Halle Berry, Omar Benson Miller, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, and Allison Lohman who all talk about the film, with most of the comments coming from Bier. There is an examination of each of the main characters and actors. The actors then talk about Bier's working style. The pieces also details the look of the film. The DVD contains 7 DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes. These are mostly dialgoue scenes, but there is one interesting scene with Jerry and another addict. Unfortunately, it's hard to place where it would have come in the film and it doesn't really go anywhere. The film's THEATRICAL TRAILER is the only other extra.
On March 24, 2009, Paramount Home Entertainment brought Things We Lost in the Fire to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc offers an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain or video noise and no defects from the source material. Even if it was a stylistic choice, for a Blu-ray Disc, the image is a tad dark here. The colors are good, and the image shows a very good level of both depth and depth. Medium close up shots displays a nice separation between the actor and the background. I did note some minor haloes around the actors at times. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven drama, the bulk of the audio comes from the center and front channels. Given this, the dialogue is clear and audile at all times and there is no distortion on the track. There are some good stereo effects at times, and a few scenes awaken the subwoofer. However, the mix doesn't offer much in the way of surround sound, save for some musical cues from the rear speakers. Still, the overall technical presentation here is preferable to the DVD.
The special features on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those found on the DVD.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long