After starring in what could be referred to as cinematic dreck lately, Halle Berry is back in a film that releases her extraordinary talent. The movie is called Things We Lost in the Fire and co-stars Benicio Del Toro. Both give Oscar-caliber performances in director Susanne Bier's poetic movie.
Berry plays Audrey Burke, the wife of Steven (David Duchovny, very winning in a supporting role), one of those eternal optimists whose greatest cause is his childhood friend, Jerry (Del Toro). Jerry has struggled with drug addiction for years and Steven has always been there. When Steven is brutally murdered, the grieving Audrey tentatively reaches out to Jerry and asks him to move in with her and her kids. This is not a match made in heaven, and the two struggle to make a friendship work.
Bier's movie focuses on the stages of grief as the characters experience them, often in very telling and resonant ways. Bier also highlights the intimacy of the story and the characters by using extreme close-ups of the characters in moments of tenderness, drawing the audience in closer. She also adds constant close-ups of the characters' eyes, the windows into the soula very effective device.
The camera stays very close to Berry and catches her insecurity, indecision and anger. She brings her amazing rapport with the audience to the part (which, surprisingly, is reinforced rather than diminished by her almost spectral beauty). Del Toro brings the same intensity of feeling to his part; he's another whose best acting moments are favored by Bier's decision to bring the camera in very close. He has the same frazzled quality that Nick Nolte does and, like Nolte, has the same easy rapport with kids and trouble with adults.
Things We Lost in the Fire is a beautifully observed piece with two full-blooded, marvelous portrayals at its core. Sad, funny and very human, Bier's movie offers the audience a very satisfying emotional catharsis. Get out your hankies.
Sleuth, the 1972 movie based on the hit play, is back. The movie is a cat-and-mouse game that ensues when a wealthy, successful mystery writer and a young, handsome, penniless actorwho's stolen the author's wife's affectionsagree to meet at the writer's home. Michael Caine, who played the younger man in the movie (to Laurence Olivier's cuckolded husband), now takes on the older part, with a fetching Jude Law stepping into Caine's shoes.
It's a stagy, preposterous movie that affords the two actors big, yeasty parts with long speeches and character shifts. It's no wonder that Caine came back (and that Law obviously relishes his part). It's a fun bit of nonsensea creepy, lurid confection that offers a continual, seductive gay undertone between the two as a bonus. Caine's home, where the action takes place, is a triumph of architectural minimalism and is such a large part of the story that it should be credited as the third cast member in this hambone but entertaining movie. Tim Harvey is the production designer who wins kudos for this ice palace, and Patrick Doyle works wonders with his Michael Nyman-sounding, icy string quartet music.
His name is Anwar and he's a doll. He's Egyptian and a decent, beautiful man with a decent, beautiful wife (Reese Witherspoon) whose eight months pregnant, and a darling, wide-eyed little boy. But Anwar (Omar Metwally) is in the wrong place at the wrong time and, after a street bombing in North Africa, a call traced to his cell phone seems to tie him to the terrorist group responsible. At the instigation of a high-ranking CIA official (Meryl Streep), Anwar is secretly nabbed as he's exiting a commercial flight, black-hooded and shipped off to a secret detention facility, where he's systematically tortured day after day. This process, called 'Extraordinary Rendition,' officially exists in our country and has been frequently used by the current administration.
The story of Anwar, the subject of this questionable practice and those around him are the bases of Rendition, a movie that is told in the broadest of strokes. Director Gavin Hood's movie also stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a troubled CIA operative charged with getting information out of Anwar and Peter Sarsgaard plays an aid to a powerful senator (Alan Arkin) who tries to help Witherspoon track down her missing husband.
Rendition is the latest in a long line of Hollywood 'message' pictures that illuminates a social and/or cultural issue by heightening the subject for dramatic effect, whipping up audience emotions in the process and then finding an emotionally satisfying resolve at the fade-out. But the script is larded with plot points that add to the movie's unbelievability. If only torture and terrorism were as easy to dissect as the movie presents it. But like the message pictures of old (Gentlemen's Agreement, for example), Rendition is plenty entertaining nonetheless and allows the bonus of allowing the audience to 'tsk-tsk' its disapproval.
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site, where there is also ordering information on my new book of collected film reviews, Knight at the Movies 2004-2006.
at the Movies 2004-2006.
For a piece on the LGBT aspect of the upcoming Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, follow the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Chicago-Festival-of-Israeli-Cinema-2007/16342.html .