Dir: Susanne Bier. US. 2007. 113mins.
Denmark's Susanne Bier makes a smooth transition to English-language film-making with a Seattle-set drama bristling with the intensity for which she has become renowned. Coaxing strong performances from her cast, Bier brings her trademark verite style to bear on the painful story of loss, grief and recovery, although the themes of Allan Loeb's script feel over-familiar from the likes of In The Bedroom, 21 Grams and the upcoming Reservation Road. Bier misses Anders Thomas Jensen, her co-writer on the Danish films, and the film fails to reach the gut-wrenching emotional levels of Open Hearts, Brothers or After The Wedding.
It's a busy time at the box
The film revolves around the death of all-round Mr Nice Guy Brian Burke (Duchovny), who is shot while intervening in a violent domestic dispute one night on the street. As we see from numerous flashbacks, Brian was a sterling fellow who remained loyal to his childhood buddy Jerry Sunborne (Del Toro) even while Jerry sank into drug addiction. He was also a loving husband to Audrey (Berry) and a devoted father to their two kids, not to mention a hugely successful businessman with a gigantic house in the suburbs.
Audrey had always resented Brian's friendship with Jerry, but on the day of the funeral, she feels a deep connection to him as she struggles to understand the loss of her husband. She subsequently seeks him out and asks him to move into the room next to the garage of house - he can use the space as a base for breaking his drug habit, while helping her overcome the bereavement.
The two struggle with their demons. He becomes a friend and surrogate parent to the kids, and starts training to become a real estate agent. She, however, is still unable to forgive Jerry for being alive, while Brian is dead. His increasing presence in the household and an underlying sexual attraction leads the resentful Audrey to send him packing, and sending him back into drug use.
But when she hears from Kelly (Lohman), a friend of Jerry's, that he has been missing Narcotics Anonymous meetings, she goes to hunt him down and help his recovery, at the same time turning a corner in her own recovery.
Unlike Reservation Road, the film never veers into melodrama, maintaining a strong sense of compassion for the characters and an unrushed pace which allows the relationship between Audrey and Jerry to develop authentically. Berry does well with a part which is often unsympathetic, while Del Toro is very good as the damaged Jerry, a sympathetic character whom the actor imbues with a gentle charm and warm personality even while he is battling his addictions.
Bier also coaxes fully-realised performances from the two children in the film - Alexis Llewellyn as Harper and Micah Berry as Dory.
The title refers to a fire which took place in the family garage before Brian's death.
Neal Street Productions (US)
DreamWorks Pictures (US)
Pernille Beck Christensen
Benicio Del Toro
Omar Benson Miller
John Carroll Lynch