Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hally Berry In Things We Lost In The Fire Review

a review by Stanley Bennett Clay

After several embarrassing missteps in such cinematic dreck as "Gothika," "Catwoman," and "Perfect Stranger," Halle Berry regains her equalibrium in the sobering and heartfelt "Things We Lost In The Fire."

As a wife and mother whose perfect husband is killed in a random act of violence, Ms. Berry gives her best performance since winning the Oscar for "Monster's Ball."Director Susanne Bier, greatly aided by Allan Loeb's quietly intense script, takes a non-linear approach to introduce us to the characters, their heartbreaking circumstances, and their grieving process, a method that effectively informs us in bits and pieces, adding a reality devoid of histrionics and melodrama.

David Duchovny and Halle Barry are so perfectly matched as husband and wife Audrey and Steven Burke, and parents to ten-year-old Dory (Micah Berry) and ten-year-old Harper (Alexis Llewellyn), that the death of Steven goes straight to the heart. Once anchored by the love and comforts of a perfect imperfect marraige, new widow Audrey, adrift, impulsively turns to Jerry Sundorne (a not surprising excellent performance by the reliable grung-thesp Benicio Del Toro), a down-and out addict who has been her husband's best friend since childhood.

Desperaste to fill the painful void caused by her husband's death, Audrey invites Jerry to move into the room adjacent to their garage in the hope that he can help her and her children with their sudden loss. Jerry, facing a daily battle to stay drug-free, becomes the unlikely surrogate dad and friend to Audrey's son and daughter. As Jerry and Audrey navigate grief and denial, their fragil bonds are constantly put to the test. But working together, they discover the strength to move forward.

I really liked this film, even though the second act drags a bit. The honesty of the characters almost makes it seem like a documentary, and wonderful performances abound. As beautiful as Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry are as Halle's children, there's not one moment of 'cutsey Hollywood kid actor' turns here. They're both great. A solid supporting cast is lead by John Carroll Lynch as Howard, an affable neighbor and family friend. David Duchovny is wonderful too, and his romantic and family moments with his wife and children are both beautiful and sad, since we know from the beginning his fate.

But this film belongs to Ms. Berry. She almost single-handidly carries it. She brings a maturity to this role not seen in anything else she has done. Every moment of her grieving process is magnificently detailed and heart-wrenching, from trying to master sleeping without her husband's arms around her to suddenly snapping at her wonderful children for no good reason.
African-American actresses rarely get opportunities like this, that of an ordinary woman navigating past, unfortunately, an ordinary tragedy. Fortunately for us, this rare opportunity is in the hands of an actress in rare form. Bravo, Ms. Berry!

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