Review: 'Things We Lost' too melodramatic

Danish soap virtuoso Susanne Bier, of “Brothers” and “After the Wedding” fame, has made her first Hollywood film, “Things We Lost in the Fire,” and, once again, she works the tear-jerk mechanism expertly. But Bier’s trademark emotional richness and dramatic potency are missing from this grief-and-recovery story. Consequently, it’s just a middling weepie.

Open-hearts melodrama is the specialty of Bier, particularly as it relates to characters brought together by a nasty thunderclap of fate. This time, courtesy of new screenwriter Allan Loeb, the epicentral incident is the random-violence killing of a stellar Seattle man named Brian Burke (David Duchovny). An unlikely pairing results.

To cope with her loss, Brian’s shattered wife, Audrey (Halle Berry), reaches out to Brian’s longtime friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), whom Audrey has disliked due to his downslide into heroin addiction. The drama becomes a chronicle of both protagonists’ struggles and recoveries when Audrey invites Jerry to stay at the house.

Jerry cleans up, bonds with Audrey's kids (Alexis Llewellyn, Micah Berry), and, encouraged by neighbor Howard (John Carroll Lynch, providing comic relief), gets his real-estate broker's license. Audrey finds comfort in Jerry’s presence, but, unable to let go of Brian, she unleashes her anger on Jerry, who relapses.

In effect, the film plays like a dumbed-down version of any of Bier’s Danish sparklers about the dynamics of human need amid the reverberations of tragedy.

Echoing “Brothers,” it wisely doesn't let the characters’ tentative attraction turn into a ridiculous romance, and it provides a poignant look at a screw-up who soars when given a chance to help others. With the exception of a bedroom moment in which Audrey uses Jerry as a platonic stand-in for Brian, the interactions between Berry, who is good, and Del Toro, who is excellent, aren’t false.

But there’s nothing special enough to enable the movie to amount to more than a so-so soaper. Where Bier’s other films have contained riveting undercurrent and psychological texture, phony Hollywood ingredients — swelling music; kid cutesiness — now fill the picture. A scene in which Audrey roams the skid-row streets in search of Jerry proves laughable due to Halle Berry's unsuppressed glamour.

Stylistically, Bier continues to operate in handheld Dogme mode and to be fond of the extreme eye close-up. Unfortunately, when there is little emotional nuance reflected in the characters’ peepers, this technique proves merely annoying in its artiness.

Things We Lost in the Fire **

Starring Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, John Carroll Lynch

Written by Allan Loeb

Directed by Susanne Bier

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Outdoor dining, as seen here at Mama’s on Washington Square in North Beach in September, is expected to resume in San Franisco this week. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF to reopen outdoor dining, personal services

San Francisco will allow outdoor dining and other limited business activity to… Continue reading

A statue of Florence Nightingale outside the Laguna Honda Hospital is one of only two statues of women in The City. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
S.F. still falling short of goal to represent women in public art

City has few streets or public facilities not named after men

A server greets diners in a Shared Spaces outdoor dining area outside Napper Tandy’s Irish pub at 24th Street and South Van Ness Avenue in the Mission District on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. San Francisco could choose to resume outdoor dining in the wake of a state decision to lift a regional stay-at-home order. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders lifted as ICU capacity improves

Change in rules could allow outdoor dining to resume in San Francisco

Methamphetamines (Sophia Valdes/SF Weekly)
New search launched for meth sobering center site

Pandemic put project on pause but gave health officials time to plan a better facility

Hasti Jafari Jozani quarantines at her brother's San Francisco home after obtaining several clearances to study at San Francisco State University. (Photo courtesy Siavash Jafari Jozani)
Sanctions, visas, and the pandemic: One Iranian student’s bumpy path to SF State

Changing immigration rules and travel restrictions leave some overseas students in limbo

Most Read