Now, I really like films like this. Good old-fashioned drama, with great actors portraying real-life kind of events. No CGI, no explosions, just a film of the kind they seemed to stop making a long time ago. And yet....
It starts intriguingly enough, in such a way that I had that 'what's going on?' question running through my mind over and over, which is what I like films to do. Basically the early stages of the film flick backwards and forwards in time spanning the period not long before and shortly after Brian (David Duchovny) dies. We see, in a kind of flashback style, brief snippets of his domestic life as a husband and father, which have a greater relevance as the film progresses. The widow Audrey (Halle Berry) is the emotional centre of the story, alongside her late husband's best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro) who she never cared for much prior to her husband's death but invites him to the funeral and they very slowly develop a relationship of sorts but definitely not the kind you would expect, thankfully. Support for the pair comes mainly from the two children Harper and Dory, the latter played by Micah Berry but of no relation in reality to the A-list actress.
This film reminded me of one of my all-time favourites, Ordinary People, in that it centres on a small group trying to cope with the loss of one of their family, and filmed almost entirely within the home. Sadly, Things We Lost in the Fire promises to deliver similar cinematic entertainment in terms of tragedy, loss, heartache and so on but never quite delivers. The reasons are hard to pinpoint. One suggestion that keeps returning to my conscience is that Audrey's feelings for her husband both before and after his death are ever so slightly confusing, and although it could be said that she shows little raw emotion in her grief because she's still in shock, this slight ambiguity is never satisfactorily resolved, and leaves a small question mark hanging in the air. This is not to doubt Halle Berry's performance, because she's excellent and is only doing what the writer and director instruct her to do. Even then, she's better than that, so I can only conclude that the writing of her actions and reactions wasn't quite what I would have expected.
But then we have Del Toro, who despite looking oddly like Brad Pitt's older brother at times nevertheless steals the show as a recovering heroin addict. I can't remember this guy not being the best actor in any film he's been in, he really is one of the outstanding actors around today. His character, played by many others, could have been repellent, uninteresting, overly sexual or all three - but he manages to be none of these things and be the more magnetic for being so. I'm sure that it was a difficult part to play but he nails it.
Mention too should go to the two children (aged 6 and 10) who have prominent and some might say pivotal roles but deliver the goods very professionally. But again, the seeming ease with which they grow fond of Jerry against a backdrop of having just lost their father was, well, slightly confusing. In fact, I was half-expecting to discover that the late Brian had some dark secrets that would justify the relatively cool response to his death by his wife and children, but nothing emerged.
In the end it was fine acting by all concerned, good camerawork, direction and editing but while I was ready and willing to have my heart-strings pulled every which way, it just didn't happen. Instead it was just highly impressive, worth seeing more than once actually, but not as moving as I had hoped early on. Ordinary People, by comparison, moved me to tears.
So maybe they don't make 'em like they used to after all. This was close though.