Monday, April 11, 2016


The way human beings react to drastic and unexpected change has been a source for storytelling since the Stone Age, and in the last few years has served as a fine playground for director Jean-Marc Vallee. Vallee has explored the way we react to illness in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013), and divorce in WILD (2014)…with both films becoming Oscar darlings. Vallee’s newest, DEMOLITION, tackles the most drastic game-changer for human beings…the loss of a loved one.

Davis (Jake Gylenhaal) is a bored-with-life investment banker who loses his wife in a car accident. Despite pressure from his father-in-law and boss Phil (Chris Cooper), Davis begins to unravel and takes solace in sending letters to Karen (Naomi Watts),  a vending-machine customer service rep whose son Chris (Judah Lewis) is sexually confused, and proceeds to physically demolish and take apart everything in his life.

The stages of grief are not the easiest things to express on film, and often fall into clichéd territory with characters staring at themselves in the mirror or standing at a gravestone during a torrential downpour. Thankfully, DEMOLITION is a film which avoids all that and instead, nearly to a fault, hangs its mourning hat on metaphor. Early in the film, Davis is advised by Phil that in order to understand something, it needs to be taken apart…and Davis takes this advice literally and proceeds to disassemble everything in sight; his computer, fridge, restroom stalls…and eventually takes a sledgehammer and smashes everything in his house. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor which for the most part works.

But for a story that is supposed to be all human, DEMOLITION has a huge disconnect with the audience. With Davis being a very rich banker living in what most working-folk would consider to be a small mansion, it’s difficult to feel sorry for him once the (ahem, clichéd) paths of I’m-rich-and-miserable begin to reveal. The film doesn’t build up towards much and there’s no huge moment for Davis, and even by the end of the story it’s not quite clear if he advanced at all. A lot of big ideas are thrown around in DEMOLITION as characters endlessly talk about life and death and what it means to actually feel, but most of these are merely said and never fully explored or have any sort of pay-off at the end.

As he has always done, Jean-Marc Vallee pulls some great performances out of his cast. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is a bit of an oddball who only has to act weird and do odd things after the accident, and it’s hard to believe that any other actor but he could have pulled this off. Chris Cooper is excellent as the grieving father, and does the best work and gets the only real weighty stuff to work with. Naomi Watts is as pretty and charming as ever, but doesn’t seem to have much chemistry with Gyllenhaal. Young Judah Lewis, who as a sexually confused 15 year old, turns in a very good performance despite the character adding even more oddness to the whole film.

Davis’ character suffers from a lot of numbness throughout the film (before and after the accident), and with the story centered on him, the overall film experience feels numb as well. There’s an awful lot of dryness to it, and for a film that wants to be one long therapy lesson, one has to work very hard to find any answers. DEMOLITION is a film anchored by great performances and the occasional thought-provoking idea, but ends up as a film which turned left when it should have turned right.


1 comment:

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