Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Smith, Heather Lind.
Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a hot shot financier whose wife is killed in a car crash. He goes into denial and his life goes into melt down and he begins to alienate everyone around him. Including his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), who also happens to be his boss.
A minor incident involving a vending machine in the hospital though is the real catalyst for his frustration. He writes complaint letters to the company, which attract the attention of Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), the sympathetic customer service representative. She finds something about the personal revelations in his letters of complaint that intrigues her. An unlikely relationship slowly develops. But it is his relationship with her troubled delinquent son Chris (newcomer Judah Lewis), who is struggling with his own sexuality and identity, that really starts the healing process. Davis becomes something of a surrogate father figure for the wayward adolescent.
Davis also finds release through demolishing things, from household appliances up to his own house. Wrecking his own beautiful, architecturally designed house with a sledgehammer proves cathartic, but it is also a heavy handed metaphor for leaving his old life behind and moving on. Ironically, in one of his letters Davis writes: “For some reason, everything has become a metaphor.”
Written by Bryan Sipe (who also penned the recent adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Choice), this is a rather downbeat and unpredictable drama dealing with death, grief, and the process of moving on. Demolition has been directed by French-Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee, who directed Matthew McConaughey to an Oscar in Dallas Buyers Club. Demolition is full of some of his trademark stylish flourishes – such as dreamlike shots, slow motion flashbacks and looped images – that give parts of the film a similar surreal quality to his enigmatic Cafe de Flore. Music has also been an important element in Vallee’s films beginning with the coming of age tale CRAZY, and here he has compiled a great soundtrack that mixes older acts like Heart and Free with indie bands like Cave and Half Moon Run, and some classical music.
Demolition has been shot by his regular cinematographer Yves Belanger, and there are some crisp and striking images. But this vaguely disappointing tale attempts to explore similar territory to that Vallee essayed in the more successful Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman trying to find herself through an arduous physical experience.
There are solid performances all round, particularly from the charismatic young Lewis who brings a spark of energy to the film that contrasts with Gyllenhaal’s downbeat and quietly compelling reading of his grieving character. The always reliable Gyllenhaal appears in virtually every scene, and he anchors this quirky but ultimately flawed drama, delivering another of his intense, edgy performances as the self destructive and emotionally stunted Davis. Cooper brings his usual stoic, gruff and world weary persona to an underwritten role, while Watts delivers another strong performance as a woman who is also dealing with her own emotional issues.
But despite the emotional content and late bursts of sentimentality, Demolition is a film that will not have broad appeal. However, it should do well on the festival circuit and in art house cinemas.