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 Things We Lost in the Fire: Benicio Del Toro

Paramount

Review in a Hurry:  Bring your tissues, ladies. Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro act their hearts out in a modern weepie that manages to hit all the marks, without being too terribly predictable.

The Bigger Picture:  Things We Lost in the Fire could have had that ticky-tacky feel of a Danielle Steele novel adaptation, but this intense film about love and loss is in good hands. Indie Danish director Susanne Bier, who broke out in America with her Oscar-nominated drama After the Wedding, suffuses the picture with the kind of touches you'd expect from, well, a fine-art Danish director: Daylight-soaked interiors, shaky close-ups and thoughtful, steady pacing.

Audrey (Berry) and Jerry (Del Toro) are thrown together by a cruel twist of fate when Audrey's husband, Brian (David Duchovny), dies tragically. Jerry and Brian are childhood friends drawn in two different directions—Brian toward success and family, Jerry, drugs and destruction. Flashbacks touchingly reveal that Brian never turned his back on his buddy. (Brian—and his whole family, in fact—is a little too annoyingly perfect.) Realizing Brian's legacy could be the recovery and renewal of his best friend, Audrey opens her home to Jerry, and the emotional fireworks begin in earnest.

Halle Berry hasn't had such a good role in a long time, it was starting to come into question whether the woman was really that talented an actress. (Playing Storm in the X-Men movies isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.) Here, she is the backbone of the story, fearlessly playing a grieving wife and mother. She's an even match for Del Toro, who hasn't shone this well in a film in perhaps just as long. He betrays a tiny bit of Method-ish tic, but overall he fills out the role of unlikely hero with assuredness and sensitivity. The actors complement a film high in emotional drama, yet low on formulaic cliché.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Bier overindulges her flair for the visual, particularly in frequent, extreme close-ups of a character's eye (just one!) and handheld vignettes of Audrey and Jerry's separate, silent pondering. These rather distracting touches of artsy-fartsiness clash with more lusciously melodramatic scenes of conflict and mourning.