Film: Things We Lost in the Fire

Things We Lost in the Fire   3 stars
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Halle Berry, David Duchovny, Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry. Directed by Susanne Bier. Released by Paramount Pictures. Rated R; 1:58.

    “Things We Lost in the Fire,” in addition to offering viewers another chance to gaze at the lovely Halle Berry, presents Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro in the full flowering of his considerable artistic powers. His performance here is not the only good thing about director Susanne Bier’s movie, but it is far and away the best thing. Del Toro has a face like a brown paper bag folded into an origami unicorn. His creases are an asset; they are his actors’ muscles. For one of the first times since “Traffic,” he has a chance to flex them here. It’s another Oscar-caliber performance.

    His character, Jerry Sunborne, is a dope addict who attends a friend’s funeral and sets in motion events that take him down an unexpected emotional path. Audrey, the widow, does not really like Jeremy. The deceased, Brian (a better than usual David Duchovny), is revealed only in flashbacks that serve mainly to flesh out Del Toro’s Jerry. Any similarities to “Monster’s Ball” are notable but not obtrusive. As in that film, Berry is a delight. She radiates a range of emotions that are rarely required in a single character, and she nails them all.

    Still, it is Del Toro’s commanding performance that makes the film work. His drug-fueled pain and sorrow (and joy) are palpable, and the writing by Allan Loeb makes his actions seem perfectly plausible. It’s easily among the best performances of an admittedly tepid (thus far) movie year.

    Bier’s previous films (mostly underfunded, all in Danish, including the great “Open Hearts”) have plumbed a typically European vein of melancholy. This first effort in English (in Hollywood even) shows proof of potential being fulfilled. She takes great pride in turning plot conventions on their heads and subverting viewers’ expectations — always a welcome trait in a director. No doubt Bier will tell us more stories with bigger budgets and bigger stars. So far her quality has been high and consistent.