The most amazing thing about this film is that it centers on a rather incredible interracial marriage (Halle Berry and David Duchovny) and you don’t really notice it. Normally, this sort of relationship would dominate the story, but here, it’s simply a matter of fact. Throw in the fact that Duchovny’s best friend is Benicio del Toro, and you wonder why this was ever off-limits in Hollywood.
The problem with the movie is that the narrative doesn’t thread from scene to scene. Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) loses her husband Steven (David Duchovny) when he’s shot trying on his way home from the store. Audrey and Steven fought often about the amount of time he spent with his drug-addled childhood friend Jerry (Benicio del Toro), whose now sleeping on the floor of a ramshackle apartment living from hit to hit. The story is told in stop-start flashback mode: We see something happen, then we flash back to when Steven was alive to give us context.
These are the strongest moments of the film, no doubt. We see the off-stage conversations between Audrey and Steven, away from the kids, alone at night in their barely-lit suburban home, shadows creeping in from the corners of their pristine McMansion. We find out, mostly, how much of a saint Steven is. He cares for his best friend when nobody else will. He’s made a lot of money helping people. He’s the World’s Best Dad. His death is Really Tragic.
So, Audrey fishes Jerry out of a temporary job at a halfway house to ask Jerry—the heroine addict—to move into her garage. And she lets him hang out with the kids. Then she can’t sleep, so she has him come up to bed to sleep with her and rub her ears—that’s right, rub her ears. One moment, Audrey is using Jerry as a proxy husband, the next she’s screaming at him, the next she’s feeling sorry for him, and then she’s on to something else.
This might be a portrait of the desperation of grief, or something like that. But it feels like a bunch of different scenes imported from different movies all stuck together. The acting within the individual scenes is uniformly good, but the writing doesn’t tie the character arcs together—the characters don’t arc as much as they zig-zag. Del Toro gets some showy, Oscar-bait scenes, and they seem like just that: Would a mother really bring a heroine addict into her house, especially with two children around?
The result is an earnest mess. Director Susanne Bier seems intent on making sure we know that Jerry isn’t just learning from the family, but they’re learning from him! Sure, but she doesn’t seem to see the need for subtlety: Steven could have a had a flaw other than trying to single-handedly lift his friend up out of the gutter; Jerry might have been a little more dangerous (especially for a heroine addict); Audrey might have just taken some Dramamine rather than invite her husband’s heroine addict best friend up from the garage. Jerry just happens to have a guardian angel watching over him, in the form of Kelly, his friend from NA who lost her boyfriend to heroine and just happens to See Something in Jerry that makes her care for him. She’s like the guiding hand of the screenwriter God—moving pieces in mysterious ways, as long as it’s for The Message.