Things We Lost in the Fire (US - BD)
Gabe revisits the Susanne Bier's ultra melodramatic feature in high definition...
After the untimely death of her beloved husband Brian (David Duchovny), Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) is lost and troubled. Left to raise two children she decides to reach out to Brian’s best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), a drug addict she shunned during her husband’s life. Jerry moves into the family guesthouse and the unlikely friends help each other awkwardly through the burdens of grief and addiction.
I’ll preface by admitting that Things We Lost in the Fire isn’t the kind of movie I normally enjoy, so my review probably shouldn’t be taken very seriously.
Things We Lost in the Fire mopes and mopes, and knocks its audience’s emotions around until the finale has nowhere to go but up. Yeah, it’ll raise your spirits comparatively, but it’ll do it through crafty heartstring pulling and artificial arterial jabs. I admit that certain scenes got an emotional response out of me, but it’s the same as a cheap jump scare in a B-horror movie, or a gross-out gag in an Ace Ventura flick. It gets the desired effect, but only for an instant. I had to write most of this review out before the film was even over out of fear of forgetting any points I may’ve wanted to make. It’s kind of like eating cotton candy—it’s sweet, but it evaporates seconds after touching your tongue.
Story-wise the film works like a made for the Oxygen or Women’s Entertainment television network original (this obviously didn’t escape the filmmakers and they make a playful joke about it). The only difference is that a solid half of this particularly mopey, woman friendly story is told from a male point of view. Sometimes the dialogue, which isn’t the worst in the world, has been calibrated based on some kind of electronic response system. I picture a woman in her early forties tied up to a couple dozen electrodes, and left in a white room with a big double paned mirror watching the film on a set of video glasses. Behind a two-way mirror is a team of scientists keeping track of her emotive response and restructured the film based on their findings. I found it frustrating.
On the good side, Things We Lost in the Fire feels surprisingly authentic, even if its story is entirely artificial on most counts. The acting is uniformly good—Berry and Del Toro emote all over the place, Duchovny is pleasant, and the kids are cute. The cinematography is minimal but effective for the scene and some of the close-up and more romantic sequences hold quite a bit of tactile weight. Del Toro and Berry’s ‘sleep scene’ is probably the best thing in the whole movie, representing the film’s strongest assets of heartfelt acting and natural photographic beauty.
The standard DVD release of Things We Lost in the Fire was already quite good. Though I didn’t see the HD DVD release, I can imagine it looks something like this Blu-ray, which is generally a few steps more perfect than the DVD. Close-up details, of which there are a whole lot, are quite sharp, and wider shots don’t lose definition like they did on the DVD (also, dig the hair on Halle Berry’s face). This Blu-ray also loses almost all the minor edge enhancement and compression noise. The film features a lot of softened lighting, and really deep and crisp blacks. It isn’t bursting with colour, but there’s a slight abstraction to the hues that makes them particularly warm.
I’m trying really hard to find a difference between the DVD’s Dolby Digital soundtrack and the Blu-ray’s TrueHD track, but I’m coming up empty. I suppose if I really use my imagination the TrueHD track is a little louder, but it’s such an underwhelming aural production that I must be missing something. Director Susan Bier takes a very light touch with her sound design. The surround channels hum with occasional background sound (passing cars, footsteps, wind in the willows and such), but mostly they’re devoted to the film’s mawkish score. I don’t know if I can take another slow acoustic guitar plucking sad chords to tell me how to feel. The score is natural and warm without overwhelming the centred and clear dialogue. There isn’t any distortion on the track, but sometimes incidental sound effects scrape the soundtrack a bit too loudly (which may or may not be an aesthetic choice).
The Blu-ray extras are identical to the DVD release, and have not been updated to high definition video.
‘A Discussion About Things We Lost in the Fire’ is just an EPK featurette, not a deep philosophical dissection of the film. The thing is made to sell the movie, and the writer, the director, the producers and actors do their best to sell it. There is some decent behind the scenes information and footage, but this isn’t a meaty documentary, and there’s a whole lot of film footage mixed into the rather brief, twenty-minute featurette.
This is followed by seven deleted scenes. These are mostly simple character beats that don’t drive many new points home, but there is an additional character and a very small subplot introduced as well (though it doesn’t go anywhere, hence its deletion). The presentation is rough, non-anamorphic widescreen. The movie’s already about twenty minutes too long, so despite some good acting these scenes shouldn’t be missed. Things finish up with a trailer, and trailers for other DreamWorks releases (including a Martin Scorsese directed Rolling Stones concert I must see now).
Things We Lost in the Fire is a big plate of McFeelings, though without the extra cheese. It’s not worth hating, and it is worth recognizing the good performances, but it isn’t something more than a small handful of viewers will remember in six months. The look and sound are acceptable, and the deleted scenes will make fans happy. I do not recommend this disc casually, but if you’re the type of person that thinks they’d like the film based on its box quote I say go for it. The Blu-ray isn’t much different from the DVD honestly, so I don’t recommend a double dip.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 24th March 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Discussion About Things We Lost In The Fire, Deleted Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Susanne Bier
Cast: Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alexis Llewellyn, Micah Berry
Length: 118 minutes
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