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  1. Headline
"Things We Lost in the Fire"
DreamWorks
Jerry (Benicio del Toro), a junkie trying to kick his habit, and Audrey (Halle Berry) a widow who mourns her ex-husband find comfort in each other in "Things We Lost in the Fire."
By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/15/2007 8:54:08 PM ET 2007-10-16T00:54:08
REVIEW

Watching “Things We Lost in the Fire,” a drama about the effect of a man’s murder on his grieving wife and family and his drug-addicted best friend, one begins to imagine what it might have been like if Ingmar Bergman had ever had to get studio notes on his latest script.

“Very powerful stuff, Ingmar. Very powerful. But we think the death would be sadder if you could make the husband a nicer guy. You know, loving husband, great with the kids, devoted to his sad-sack pal whom everyone else abandoned. Not a dry eye in the house, believe me. And instead of shooting in a Danish housing project, let’s set it in a lush Seattle suburb. No need to depress the audience any further with cold weather and those grim buildings.”

Halle Berry, digging her teeth into the first meaty big-screen role she’s been offered since snagging an Oscar for “Monster’s Ball,” plays Audrey, a wife and mother whose life is shattered by the senseless murder of her husband, played by David Duchovny. The filmmakers couldn’t have made Duchovny’s character more saintly if they tried — heck, he even dies protecting a stranger who’s being beaten on the sidewalk by her abusive husband.

Also rocked by Duchovny’s death is Benicio del Toro as Jerry, a lawyer who has thrown his life away for heroin. Audrey needs a man around the house, and Jerry needs a place where he can kick the junk, so he moves in.

Wisely, this isn’t a set-up for a romantic comedy; Audrey resents Jerry for being alive when her husband is dead, and even tells him so to his face. When Audrey’s two children begin bonding with Jerry, she becomes furious that he is attempting to fill her late husband’s shoes, even though that’s the last thing on his mind. But when Jerry backslides and goes back to shooting up, Audrey and her family are there for him.

Susanne Bier, director of the acclaimed “After the Wedding,” makes her U.S. filmmaking debut here, and there’s a definite tug-of-war between her European sensibilities and the Hollywood schmaltz she’s been given to craft. On the plus side, the movie features blisteringly powerful work by Berry and del Toro — Bier likes shooting close-ups on her actors’ eye, singular, and these two inhabit their characters all the way down to the cornea.

Video: 'Things We Lost in the Fire' Where the film’s ambitions crumble is in its avowed refusal to make its audience too uncomfortable. Problems get resolved quickly, comic relief is injected, strangers express kindness — there’s always something going on to relieve any tension that might build up, and it feels like a cheat.

If Bier were directing this same story in, say, France, you’d have 90 minutes of Isabelle Huppert smoking, crying, and shrieking, and we would be right there with her, feeling her pain. “Things We Left in the Fire,” for all its individual moments of real emotion, feels like the Disney animated version of “On Death and Dying.”

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Photos: Halle Berry

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  1. Baby on the way

    Actress Halle Berry, 46, is expecting a baby with fiance Olivier Martinez, She's seen here attending the premiere of her movie "The Call" at Cine Leblon on April 11, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Berry has a four-year-old daughter, Nahla, with ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry. (Buda Mendes/stf / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fashion forward

    Fashion designer Michael Kors and Berry join the United Nations World Food Programme to help fight world hunger on April 6, 2013 in New York. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Striking ensemble

    Berry arrives at the 2013 Vanity Fair Oscar party on Feb. 24, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Answering 'The Call'

    In the 2013 thriller "The Call," Berry plays a 911 operator who finds herself swept up in a murderer's evil deeds. (Greg Gayne / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Happy days

    Berry and fiance Olivier Martinez stroll in Los Angeles on Jan. 18, 2013. (Smxrf/star Max / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Cloud Atlas'

    Tom Hanks stars with Berry in the 2012 film "Cloud Atlas," based on David Mitchell's novel. (Jay Maidment / Jay Maidment) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Superstars

    Hanks and Berry attend the premiere of "Cloud Atlas" in Berlin on Nov. 5, 2012. The film received mixed reviews. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 24: Actors Olivier Martinez and Halle Berry arrive at Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Cloud Atlas' premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on October 24, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images) (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Makeup promotion

    Berry attends the Revlon ColorStay Whipped Creme Makeup launch at the Gramercy Park Hotel on May 22, 2012 in New York. (Jamie Mccarthy / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Slimed!

    Berry gets slimed at Nickelodeon's 25th Annual Kids' Choice Awards on March 31, 2012 in Los Angeles. (Christopher Polk / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Remembering Whitney

    Berry speaks on stage at the "We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute To Whitney Houston," television special in Los Angeles on Oct. 11, 2012. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. New Year's Eve

    Nurse Aimee New Year's Eve is a 2011 romantic comedy film directed by Garry Marshall. Like Valentine's Day, Marshall's previous film, it depicts a series of holiday vignettes of the state of several romances and features a large ensemble cast. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Frankie & Alice (2011)Frankie & Alice, for which Berry also served as a producer, is a moving psychological drama based on the harrowing true story of Frankie Murdoch (Berry), a woman suffering with multiple personality disorder in early 1970s Los Angeles. (Freestyle Releasing) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Actress Halle Berry attends the premiere of "Frankie and Alice" at the Egyptian Theatre on November 30, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images) (David Livingston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cause celeb

    Actress Halle Berry attends the DKMS 4th Annual Gala "Linked Against Leukemia" at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on Thursday, April 29, 2010. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Two beauties

    Berry and her daughter Nahla Aubry enjoy the day at Coldwater Canyon Park in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Splash News) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Lucky man

    Berry, right, is joined by, from left, singer Alicia Keys, singer Leona Lewis and actor Jamie Foxx at Jenesse Center's 30th Anniversary Silver Rose Weekend at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on April 18, 2010. (Angela Weiss / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Always Golden

    Berry poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2010. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Night out

    Berry and Alicia Keys pose at Hammerstein Ballroom during the Keep A Child Alive's 6th Annual Black Ball on Oct. 15, 2009, in New York. (Kevin Mazur / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Sweet smell of success

    In 2009, Berry released her first perfume, Halle by Halle Berry, from Coty. The actress said that she had been mixing scents to make her own fragrance even before her scent was released, mixing fig and mimosa with other components. (halleberryfragrances.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Soaking up the sun

    Berry gives daughter Nahla a taste of the Atlantic Ocean in Miami on July 8, 2009. (Brett & Natalie Kaffee / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. On fire

    Berry accepts the Decade of Hotness award at Spike TV's 2009 "Guys Choice Awards" on May 30, 2009 in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Supporting families

    In April 2008. Berry makes her first public appearance six weeks after delivering baby Nahla in March. Berry was at the Jenesee Center’s Silver Rose Gala & Auction, which helps families affected by domestic violence with emergency shelters, employment training, and counseling. (Toby Canham / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Baby on the way

    A pregnant Berry arrives for the presentation of "Things We Lost in the Fire" at the Rome Film Festival, on Friday, Oct. 26, 2007. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Portraying loss

    In 2007's "Things We Lost in the Fire," Berry portrayed Audrey Burke, a woman who lost her policeman husband (David Duchovny) and renews a friendship with his childhood pal (Benicio del Toro, left), a heroin addict. (DreamWorks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Hot stuff

    Berry and model boyfriend Gabriel Aubry attend the afterparty for the premiere of her film "Things We Lost in the Fire" at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles on Oct. 15, 2007. On April 30, 2010, reports surfaced that the couple had split. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Undercover

    In 2007's "Perfect Stranger," Berry plays reporter Rowena Price, who goes undercover to flirt with a senator (Bruce Willis, left) who may have killed her friend. (Revolution Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Just 'Perfect'

    Berry attends a photocall for the film "Perfect Stranger" on March 30, 2007, in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Star power

    Berry attends a ceremony honoring her with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 3, 2007 in Hollywood, Calif. (Vince Bucci / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Just desserts

    With a grand parade, Harvard's Hasty Pudding honored Berry as its 2006 Woman of the Year. Before receiving the traditional brass pudding pot, the Cantebridgians were unwilling to let her off without a bit of ribbing: To mark her "Catwoman" role, they made her dance with a Pudding member dressed as a dog. (Chitose Suzuki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Woman of steel

    Berry provided the voice of Cappy in 2005's "Robots." Director Chris Wedge gave each mechanism its own personality. After playing a live-action version of a comic-book figure in "X-Men," the film gave Berry the chance to portray an animated figure on screen. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. All 'Eyes' on her

    Berry was a vision in pink for the 2005 premiere of ABC's TV adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God." As the lead character Janie in this Oprah-produced effort, Berry portrayed one of the most compelling characters in African-American literature. It won her another Emmy for best actress in a miniseries or movie. (Mark Mainz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Feeling catty

    Berry's sex appeal was on display as she promoted her 2004 film "Catwoman." Audiences were less impressed once they entered the theaters, and the role scored her a 2005 Razzie for worst actress. Unlike most recipients of the ignominious award, Berry proved herself a class act when she showed up in person to accept. "If you aren't able to be a good loser, you're not able to be a good winner," she told the crowd. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Funny girl

    Berry got a good laugh when Ashton Kutcher pulled a "Punk'd" prank on her for his MTV show. At the "Gothika" world premiere, Kutcher had a security guard deny Berry access, saying the theater was over capacity and 16 people needed to leave before she could enter. (Carlo Allegri / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Scary stuff

    Berry's choice of roles took a turn for the darker in 2003's "Gothika." As criminal psychologist Dr. Miranda Grey, she found herself a patient in her own mental institution, accused of her husband's murder but with no memory of the alleged crime. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Storm surge

    Berry reprised her role as mutant Storm in 2003's "X2." Though the "X-Men" series were undoubtedly popcorn movies, Berry brought depth to her comic-book character. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Berry, Halle Berry

    Again proving her range, Berry decided to join the ranks of Bond girls in 2002's "Die Another Day," playing against Pierce Brosnan's James Bond. As Jinx, she was Bond's right-hand woman, though some Bond fans felt the screenplay didn't do either Berry or Brosnan justice. (MGM) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Making history

    Halle Berry celebrates her win at the 2002 Oscars. Her win for "Monster's Ball" made her the first African American to win an Academy Award for best actress. In addition to thanking other talented black artists in her acceptance speech, Berry said her win was "for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened." (Lee Celano / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A heavy 'Ball'

    Berry's most profound role yet came in 2001's "Monster's Ball," where she played Leticia, the widow of an convict who falls in love with a man (Billy Bob Thornton, right) who helped execute her husband. The wrenching film, which included an intimate nude scene, won Berry her first Oscar. (Lions Gate Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Remembering the lost

    Berry spoke onstage at the Oct. 2001 concert for New York City to benefit the victims of the World Trade Center disaster. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Vixen time

    Berry and John Travolta played a black-ops duo in 2001's "Swordfish," a film remembered less for its plot than for including Berry's first topless scene. (Rumors swirled that she received $2 million for the effort, a claim she and the studio have repeatedly denied.) (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A winning choice

    Berry's six-year struggle to bring "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" to the screen paid off when she won a 2000 Emmy for best lead actress in a miniseries or movie. (Scott Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Playing an icon

    One of Berry's most heartfelt personal projects was to portray actress Dorothy Dandridge, the first African American woman to be nominated for an Oscar. It took Berry six years to bring the story to the small screen for HBO, but her turn in the starring role was flawless, and her other role -- as the TV movie's producer -- established her as a force in Hollywood on both sides of the camera. (HBO) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Halle's guy

    Berry showed up (and showed skin) at the 2000 premiere of "X-Men" with jazz musician Eric Benet. The couple would marry the following year -- a second marriage for Berry, after her first one to baseball player David Justice ended in a 1996 divorce. She and Benet separated in 2004, and after their 2005 divorce, Berry stated she never wanted to be married again. She has a daughter with model Gabriel Aubry. (Scott Gries / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Getting her due

    Berry was a radiant presence at the 1998 Blockbuster Awards. She won a 1997 Blockbuster Award for her role as a flight attendant aboard a hijacked plane in "Executive Decision." Not a film for the ages, but with it, Berry added action-adventure to the list of genres she could master. (Brenda Chase / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Hair today

    Director Robert Townsend loves to send up black stereotypes, but you could hardly accuse his 1997 film "B.A.P.S." of tackling the obvious. As wannabe actress Nisi, Berry costarred in this comedy about race and the high life in Beverly Hills. Berry and Natalie Desselle, right, find themselves living with an aging millionaire (Martin Landau) and learning to become Black American Princesses, hence the title. An usual choice for Berry, but proof she wanted a varied choice of roles. (New Line) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. 'Sun'-shine

    Berry received top billing in the undernoticed 1996 drama "Race the Sun," as she played a teacher determined to inspire Hawaiian high-schoolers. She drives them to build a solar-powered car that eventually powers them across Australia. The inspiring-teacher genre was already well worn by then, but Berry brought a subtle touch to the role. (Tristar) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Stone cold

    Berry's earlier career wasn't all serious. She also brought an edge to her role as villainess Rosetta Stone in the 1994 live-action adaptation of "The Flintstones." Betty and Wilma were hard-pressed to compete. (Hanna-Barbara via ZUMA Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Feeling the 'Fever'

    Halle Berry's first major role came in 1991, when she played drug addict Vivian in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever." The down-and-dirty role (literally -- she reportedly refused to bathe for days before filming) established Berry early on as a serious talent and much more than a pretty face. The cred was doubly important because of Berry's background as a beauty queen and Miss USA runner-up. (Universal Pictures via ZUMA Press) Back to slideshow navigation
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