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Friday, October 19, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Things We Lost in the Fire" | Pretty film doesn't conceal life's harsh realities

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

"Things We Lost in the Fire," with Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Omar Benson Miller, Alison Lohman, John Carroll Lynch. Directed by Susanne Bier, from a screenplay by Allan Loeb. 119 minutes. Rated R for drug content and language. Several theaters.

Danish director Susanne Bier, in the heartfelt dramas "After the Wedding," "Open Hearts" and "Brothers," showed an uncanny knack for finding the souls of her characters. She gets almost uncomfortably close to her actors' faces, finding nuance and meaning in the tug of a lip or the faint moistness in an eye, letting the emotions open to the camera.

In "Things We Lost in the Fire," her English-language debut, she continues her trademark, and the result is a wistful and often lovely film. Though Allan Loeb's screenplay is a bit too free-floating — it's not fascinating enough for us to overlook the fact that very little happens — the actors do fine work, and the film has a gentleness rarely seen in big-studio offerings.

That said, its overall sadness may make "Things" a tough sell. Essentially, it's a story about friendship, and about how the strength of its bond can transform lives, slowly and quietly. Audrey (Halle Berry) is a young widow and mother devastated by the loss of her husband, Brian (David Duchovny, shown mostly in flashbacks), and the seeming end of her happy life. Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), Brian's best friend, struggles with drug addiction. Though Audrey had once resented Jerry, because of her husband's constant attempts to help him break the cycle of addiction, "Things" documents their careful, gradual friendship as they learn to help each other.

Set during a picturesque Northwest fall (it was filmed in Vancouver, posing as Seattle), the film at times is surprisingly unpretty, with Jerry's addiction shown in all its harsh colors. Nor is his recovery the simple type that movies often depict — it's slow, with setbacks and an honest longing to fall off the wagon. ("All you do is chase it," says Jerry, of the initial euphoria that heroin brings.)

Bier, using her camera like a mirror, lets us gaze into the characters' eyes and read their stories there. While "Things" doesn't quite have the emotional impact of "After the Wedding," it's an honest and moving tale of lives becoming whole again.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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