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Blu-ray Review: Things We Lost In The Fire

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Things We Lost In The Fire tells the story of two people whose lives are profoundly affected by the death of one man. Audrey (Halle Berry) lost her husband, Brian (David Duchovny), and is not only trying to come to grips with this void in her life, but also that of their children. Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), meanwhile, is a recovering heroin addict, and Brian was the only true friend he ever had in life. These two people, although from very different backgrounds, lost the one person who mattered most to them. Through this shared emotional connection, their unlikely friendship develops, and each helps carry the other's burden.

That's the quick route. The long way involves a winding trail of children looking for a new father figure, a wife who represses the loss in her life and avoids dealing with the toll this is taking on her family, and a drug addict who, slowly but surely, realizes that he's going to have to turn his life around by himself. The support system for all three of these groups is now gone, as they become victims of absence. And it's a shame that these relationships aren't allowed to intermingle gracefully, and then develop and heal naturally.

Although you can't fault most of the acting – Benecio Del Toro, specifically, turns in a very strong performance – the pacing of the film just feels haphazard at points and difficult to connect with. The story is told through stuttering bursts of present-day scenes cut in between with flashbacks, and you never get a grasp on any of the characters before you're asked to believe their actions in these odd, new relationships. And even after you do get to know them, much of the dialogue and their reactions to situations are inexplicable at best. It feels like a movie that was made from a book where lots of pages and sometimes whole sections were ripped out first. You can keep up and understand what's going on, but there is nothing smooth and natural at all to either the story arc or more often just specific scenes. It plays like a good Lifetime movie (which also gets a shout-out during the film), and that's an extremely dubious good.

The Blu-ray release of this film is basically a format shift from the HD-DVD version. The picture looks relatively clean, although in spots the colors seem just a bit washed out, and overall a bit soft. However, this could just be how the film originally looked as well (I did not see it in the theater). Director Susanne Bier is fond of extreme closeups – a single forlorn eye; the twitch of an isolated smile – and these details show off the film the best, even if they seem a bit reaching for artistic purpose. The 5.1 HD soundtrack is good, but feels a bit imbalanced. Del Toro's character frequently listens to music on his headphones, and during those moments the music soundtrack not only fills out the sound spectrum more brazenly, but the volume is cranked as well. It's the most intentional audio "action" in the film, and I understand why it's done, but it's a bit overstated. However, in general the surround field sees limited use, but this isn't the type of film where action flies by the edges of your periphery.

Bonus features are, for some reason, in standard definition (are we still filming professional promos in SD instead of HD?). It's DVD quality, but still feels like an odd downgrade for a hi-def release. The main bonus item is a twenty-minute behind-the-scenes look at the film, as told through clips and interviews with the director, producers, and cast. It feels fairly generic, and is your standard studio fluff. There are also about ten minutes worth of deleted scenes. Many of them would have made the pacing feel even more disjointed, but a couple seem like they would have fit in fairly seamlessly. Rounding things out is the sole hi-def item, the theatrical trailer (hooray?).

Things We Lost In The Fire could have been a much better drama than it turned out to be. Although it works in several sections, the whole is marred by large bands of duct tape trying to hold things together. As for the disc itself, it would be a good rental, especially if you follow the lead actors, but it comes up short as a permanent addition to a movie library.

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About David R Perry