★ ★ ★ 1/2
Some actors are typecast early in their careers. They are doomed to play the same role over and over, with decreasing success. Benicio Del Toro is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. Most of Del Toro's major roles have dealt with drugs, and addiction. Even his most recent role, The Wolfman dealt with the subject of addiction obliquely. Yet somehow, Del Toro seems to add an additional layer of complexity to his oeuvre with each role. In Fear and Loathing, he played a comedic, yet frightfully erratic junkie. In Sin City, he played a merciless, abusive drunk. His character in Things We Lost In The Fire provides a stark contrast.
Things We Lost In The Fire is a story about the fallout of a homicide. Audrey (Halle Berry), plays a widow, left with a young family, and the grief of her husband's recent death. Jerry (Del Toro), her husband's best friend, is a drug addict who is shaken by the death of his only friend. Jerry has avoided Audrey for years, since she disapproved of her husband's relationship with a heroin addict. Were it not for her husband's demise, she may not have ever seen him again. He likely would have died in an alley somewhere. This is how she felt it ought to have been.
This was arguably Del Toro's best role to date. Jerry seems to represent a best case drug rehab scenario, though we're always aware of his vulnerability. He is eerily detached, especially when listening to music or having a cigarette. He seems to immerse himself in these activities the way that only a recovering addict could. Halle Berry was no slouch either. There is a fine line between depressed and mopey. She deserves major credit for straddling that line. It's rare to see two actors so excel in such difficult roles simultaneously. There was a kind of synergy that is quite rare.
Though the acting made the movie, Susanne Bier's gritty directorial style certainly complemented the leading roles. Shifty camcorder shots helped accentuate the sense of disarray. This disarray would momentarily stop every time the camera peered into Halle Berry's eyes, or paused on Del Toro's face. It's as though Bier was trying to plunge the audience into the depth of their souls. From this close, we could just see that tiny glimmer of hope left for them. This is one of the most mature, and ultimately hopeful cinematic treatments of grief, and addiction. A wonderful English language debut for Susanne Bier.