Buried deep within the embers of grief, a spark of friendship ignites in relationship drama 'Things We Lost in the Fire'. However, while this thoughtful, emotional film delivers some strong performances and appealing cinematography, don't expect a blaze of drama and excitement.
Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro play two very different people thrown together in the wake of disaster.
Audrey (Berry) is grieving for her husband who has been killed in a sudden tragedy and feeling utterly lost turns to drug addict Jerry (Del Toro), a childhood friend of her husband's, in a desperate search for help.
The relationship between this odd pairing is interesting. Audrey is drawn to Jerry as the only person who knew her husband Brian (David Duchovny) as well as, or perhaps better than, she did, but is furious that he has survived his heroin addiction while her husband is dead through no fault of his own. Brian's death is a catalyst for both of them. Jerry is moved to get clean and sort his life out, while Audrey feels her whole life has lost all meaning.
Though it is she who invites Jerry to become her lodger in a bid to help him out, their roles are reversed and he ends up supporting Audrey through her loss and becoming a father figure to her two young children.
Berry said: "I think the beauty of this character is that she didn't understand addiction. And that's why she never understood why her husband was so invested in this loser of a man who used to be this great lawyer who squandered his life away.
"She couldn't understand the connection because she was trying to understand it intellectually and she didn't really understand it emotionally, until she got to know the guy. And then she really understood the connection between he and her husband."
The Oscar-winning actress - who is pregnant in real life with her first child after years of longing for a baby - also explained the film was a learning curve as her onscreen children taught her that while parenting is not an easy ride she discovered she "needed to be a mother".
The 41-year-old star said: "I don't think motherhood is easy. I think motherhood is probably one of the hardest things any woman can do.
"So it wasn't easy but I also felt that it came natural, that I'm meant to be a mother. I loved every second that I got to be with the kids, even when they weren't being their best selves.
"I knew that I inherently love children and need to have that energy in my very own life, like on a day-to-day basis.
"These kids taught me I needed to be a mother. I was meant to be a mother."
Berry's young co-stars, 11-year-old Alexis Llewellyn who plays 10-year-old Harper and nine-year-old Micah Berry, who plays her younger brother Dory, both give excellent performances in the film.
The children's honesty and acceptance of their father's death is very powerful and highlights the confusion it is causing in the adults' lives.
Director Susanne Bier revealed Berry was a natural when it came to adopting the parental role and the children quickly accepted her as their mother figure.
Bier said: "They children are not polite. But they liked Halle a lot. They called her Mommy. They kind of got into that whole thing with no hesitation. They had these moments of natural parent-child interaction.
"For example there were a few occasions when Halle would naturally get irritated with the kids and discipline them. She would say, 'Could you please be quiet,' and they would react like she was their mother."
Del Toro's performance is by far the best in this movie, but unfortunately his character is pushed to the sidelines. Laid back Jerry is confused by the reactions of Audrey and her children, but his open attitude is just what they need to help them through their grief.
And it is this sudden projection to father-figure that helps this down-and-out get back on track.
Del Toro said: "I think it was Kurt Cobain who said something along the lines that people need to get high to feel the enthusiasm that they felt as a kid. I think that children, without knowing it, can give someone a purpose. And they do give Jerry a purpose."
Meanwhile, Audrey is as confused about her growing friendship with Jerry as he is. This is a man who her husband was devoted to but who she refused to acknowledge while he was alive. And now she finds that he is the closest she can get to Brian, and he becomes almost like a drug to her. So as Jerry gets clean, Audrey has to learn to let go of Brian.
To give an accurate portrayal of a grieving widow, Berry was required to let herself go - physically as well as emotionally.
Bier told her she was not allowed to wear makeup or even go to the gym while making the movie.
Berry said: "In the first 10 minutes of our first meeting Susanne said, 'How do you feel about having absolutely no make up on and being on camera?' I said, 'Great - I love it.' "
Bier added: "I was actually pretty horrible now that I'm thinking about it.
I said I don't want you working out and I don't want over worked out arms. I told her I want you like you're a normal human being. It's one thing that you are out of this world beautiful on your own, but for this character we can't have you all glammed up."
While the film tells the story of the relationship between Audrey and Jerry, it is Audrey's grief and emotion which is the main focus. We are shown Jerry 's reaction to the death, but the emphasis seems to remain on how his reactions affect Audrey. This is very much a look at how being widowed effects one woman. And this is a movie about female emotions, and therefore more likely to appeal to a female audience.
However Berry disagrees, arguing: "I wouldn't necessarily say it's a woman's film. I think it's a very human story and although Audrey Brand is a woman, and you know she's dealing with her children, I still think the element of Benicio Del Toro's character is a really strong element of the movie. And it's really about relationships. It's about friendships and I think both men and women experience relationships and friendships."
Bier also insists: "I don't think it's a woman's movie. I've shown it to a number of people and actually, interesting enough, men react even stronger to the movie than women do. And I think it gives an insight to men and women, which is not an action film."
This film gives a powerful portrayal of a family gripped by grief. The friendship that grows between Jerry, Audrey and the children is intriguing but it fails to leave a burning impression. The script is excellent and Brian's character is omnipresent as the bond that holds everything together, but there are times when you feel it is all smoke and no fire as the relationship between Audrey and Jerry remains quite cool.
It smoulders with emotion and gives a good insight into the effects of grief. It flickers with moments of powerful acting, but overall it fails to truly ignite any strong feeling in its audience.