It's no surprise that Things We Lost in the Fire is a pompous piece of Oscar bait invested in some terribly banal ideas. What is a surprise is that most of the personnel involved don't actually seem to believe in those ideas. It's not that they're dishonest, it's just that they don't really see what's going on - the film is born of a need to string together big emotional scenes rather than tie them together with some kind of coherent theme.
Halle Berry stars as the recently bereaved wife of David Duchovny; he in turn was the close childhood friend of heroin addict Benicio Del Toro. Circumstances too tedious to enumerate here move Berry to invite Del Toro into her unfinished spare room, meaning she has ample opportunity to irrationally resent him while he befriends her children and puts his life together. I'm amazed at the simplicity of the outline I just wrote because the film is so stuffed with nonsensical emotional confrontations that you sort of think it might be less easy to boil down. But though one can detect Oprah-esque clichés about mourning, family and "letting go, Suzanne Bier directs with such a logical disconnect that the big scenes hang in space without form or purpose.
This intellectual no-man's-land manages to completely flummox the cast, with Berry looking completely confused and Del Toro launching into a Method tic parade that's very comical but not at all convincing. They might have done better if anyone knew what the hell was going on, but the film's drifting mentality means that nobody involved has any solid anchor on what they should do.
Bier and company manage to do the impossible: they take the most boring chestnuts in the message movie handbook and turn it into something bizarre enough to be happening on Mars. (Dreamworks)