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The Substance of Fire
The Substance of Fire
Actors: Tony Goldwyn, Benjamin Ungar, Timothy Hutton, Tom McDermott, Sarah Jessica Parker
Director: Daniel J. Sullivan
Genres: Drama, Military & War
R     2003     1hr 37min

An acclaimed cast of stars shines in this powerful motion picture! Ron Rifkin (TV's ER, WOLF) plays a headstrong book publisher who refuses to "sell out" by releasing anything commercial ... even when his business partner'...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Tony Goldwyn, Benjamin Ungar, Timothy Hutton, Tom McDermott, Sarah Jessica Parker
Director: Daniel J. Sullivan
Creators: Robert D. Yeoman, Pamela Martin, Jon Robin Baitz, Lemore Syvan, Randy Finch, Ron Kastner
Genres: Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Drama, Military & War
Studio: Miramax
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 01/04/2003
Original Release Date: 03/14/1997
Theatrical Release Date: 03/14/1997
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 37min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
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Movie Reviews

The Generational Legacy Of Survival
Dr Lawrence Hauser | NYC, NY USA | 04/06/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Substance Of Fire is a powerful, profoundly upsetting investigation into the effects of the Holocaust on the lives of a present day New York City family. Although decades have elapsed since Isaac Geldhart escaped the persecution and slaughter as a small child, the recent death of his beloved wife triggers an ineluctable slide into willful self-destruction and resultant victimhood. His loss, it would seem, creates the internal conditions for symbolic reenactment of the childhood trauma. His three children, already struggling with the generational effects of having a father who is a survivor, must now cope with the emotional detritus thus created as well as their own grief over their mother's passing. The context for this poignant, intensely disturbing scenario is the publishing house Isaac operates with his eldest son, Aaron. The other two children are passive shareholders in the once lucrative business which is progressively being run into the ground by their father; a man who is increasingly obsessed with taking on authors whose work is mostly esoteric, commercially unviable, and concerned with morbid themes of death and destruction (like the title Water On Fire which is devoted to the Hiroshima Holocaust). As the film begins Isaac has become fixated on bringing to life a financially unpromising four volume study devoted to the Nazi medical experiments of Dr. Joseph Mengles, written by a friend and concentration camp survivor. Not only is Isaac committed to publishing a work which clearly has no market, he is determined to bring it out in a fabulously expensive hand sewn version printed to perfection on the finest paper known to mankind. Aaron, meanwhile, is about to sign an author of a potentially bestselling novel which might have the salutary effect of saving the business from what looks to be certain bankruptcy. Isaac refuses to allow his son to publish what he considers rubbish and the stage is set for a family confrontation that threatens to turn everything upside down in the lives of these four vulnerable, all too sympathetic characters. What ensues is the stuff of great tragedy and pathos. The cast of this wonderfully nuanced, beautifully written film is superb. Timothy Hutton, as the youngest son who already in life has faced the rigors of surviving a potentially fatal disease, turns in a performance that repeatedly pierced my heart. Having been cared for by Isaac during the worst of his illness, he now volunteers to care for his father during his own fall from grace and good health. And both Sarah Jessica Parker and Tony Goldwyn, as they portray Isaac's other children, are sensational. Ron Rifkin as Isaac is the center of gravity of this film, however. He carries the burden of his past as well as an exigent need for atonement with astonishing strength until he ultimately breaks down and begins to spill his suppressed misery into the lives of his children whom he cherishes yet cannot really love. But redemption is never totally out of reach, the film suggests, as ultimately The Substance Of Fire provides the viewer with a shred of hope about the most hopeless of human situations."
Parent-Children Family Conflict Drama Gets Out-of-Focus
Robert W. Weiss | Brooklyn, NY United States | 04/30/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This play-adaptation begins as an interesting family drama. The main character is a holocoust survivor who publishes "serious books" with limited commercial potential. Although the business had been moderately successful, it is now in serious financial difficulty , and his children try to convince him to save the business by publishing a book which has great commercial potential. ..., he refuses and pushes ahead with his current project which is a book on Nazi medical experiments. So far, this is an interesting conflict between an idealistic, headstrong father, and his more practical children who don't want their inheritance to go down the tubes. Unfortunately, at this point the basic story changes and the father develops a mental disorder (perhaps early signs of senility ). The focus is now on the children and their attempts to shield their father from humiliation and see that he is cared for. This focus on the children is dull, because only the father in this film is a well-developed interesting character; and the introduction of mental illness aborts the initial story conflict. The film seems like two short stories; an interesting one at the beginning, and a dull one in the second half."
Waitsel Smith | Atlanta, GA USA | 12/30/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)

"I generally like Tony Goldwyn; but in this, he simply fills a role. The rest of the cast is convincing, though unappealing - except for Ron Rifkin as fine book publisher Isaac Geldhart, a survivor of the Holocaust, who is now risking everything to publish an extremely expensive book about this tragedy, much to the chagrin of his profit-conscious son, Aaron (Goldwyn). The rest of his neglected and dysfunctional family are highlighted by Timothy Hutton as his unhealthy, landscape architect son, Martin - the only member who seems genuinely unselfish. Sarah Jessica Parker plays the immature, hedonist daughter Sarah.

While the inside look at the world of book publishing is interesting, it doesn't satisfy enough to offset the uneven plot and totally dislikable characters. Granted, there are some strong performances (Rifkin and Hutton in particular). But who wants to sit for two hours watching excellent actors flesh out totally despicable characters? Only Isaac's secretary seems in any way likable or goodhearted. And the ending is anything but satisfying. One wonders why this excellent cast was wasted on such an unhappy vehicle.

Waitsel Smith"