Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
This sombre, analytical melodrama marks Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's first English language production. As she has often been throughout her career, Bier explores families and crises, and she does it with an excellent understanding of the psychological mechanisms which follow life-altering incidents, both from the point of view of the spouse, the children and the surrounding friends and family.
Things We Lost in the Fire is most effective as a character study, and the film is remarkably well-acted with Halle Berry and particularly Benicio Del Toro giving deep and unpolished representations of a woman who has lost her husband and the husband's drug addict friend respectively. Berry's acting is effective if conventional thespianism, whereas Del Toro, not for the first time, brings a little extra flavour to a multi-layered role. Fine work also comes from underused character actor John Carroll Lynch as the family friend.
Despite Bier's empathy and ability to evoke emotion, her film is ultimately somewhat flawed from a narrative and thematic point of view. Her storytelling lacks the edge and conclusion which would have given this fundamentally simplistic narrative a more allegoric and timeless effect. It is both the film's strength and weakness that most viewers will recognize and be able to relate to many of the hardships suffered by these characters. This makes Things We Lost in the Fire fascinating and deeply thought-provoking, but also a little too obvious and well-intended.