Things We Lost in the Fire

Matthew Scott Hunter

Things We Lost in the Fire

** 1/2

Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny

Directed by Susanne Bier

Rated R

Opens Friday

Agony is like a drug for actors. They can’t get enough of it. If an actor has a shot at some really deep suffering, virtually nothing else in the script matters—not as long as they get their raw, emotional pain fix. In Things We Lost in the Fire, Del Toro gets to convulse his way through all the most gruesome aspects of drug withdrawals, and Berry gets to cry, scream and be generally irrational while mourning the death of the Greatest Guy Ever. The two Oscar-winners must have been in heaven.

To their credit, the performances are powerful, challenging and easily the best part of the show. However, the story that justifies all that magnificent misery could stand a little fine-tuning.

The movie begins just prior to the funeral of Steven (Duchovny), who, we learn through a series of flashbacks, was just about the nicest guy on Earth. He never gave up on his childhood friend-turned-drug addict, Jerry (Del Toro), and even though Steven’s hotheaded wife, Audrey (Berry), disapproved of the continued friendship, he treated her with the utmost diplomacy and patience, while never failing to dote on her and their two uber-precocious children. Unfortunately, Steven went out one night for ice cream and got himself killed, being a hero. (How else?)

Through a series of contrivances, Jerry winds up living in Audrey’s garage, freshly rebuilt after a fire that claimed several irreplaceable family heirlooms (a metaphor for Audrey’s grief, which, in turn, is a metaphor for Jerry’s addiction). Together, they help each other through their respective withdrawals and relapses, with one always seeming to find strength as the other weakens.

And that’s the problem. It’s all just a little too pat, and that makes the storyline predictable. You can feel the next plot beat coming. In fact, the first 45 minutes of flashbacks seem to be arbitrarily jumbled just to throw us off. We jump from scene A to scene D, only to get C and then B a little later, after our minds have already filled in those blanks. It’s as though the editor dropped all the footage on the floor and then assembled it in whatever order he picked it up.

I’m as big a fan of anguished performances as the next guy. And it’s certainly most actors’ drug of choice. But when you take a drug without a good reason to justify it, that’s just drug abuse.

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