By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review comes from the director who received my 2013 film of the year award for Dallas Buyers Club.
Now, in 2016, Jean-Marc Vallée is back with the Jake Gyllenhaal helmed movie Demolition. Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper are in supporting roles.
I had mixed feelings before going into the Phoenix screening due to Vallée’s previous two films. I loved ‘DBC’ but hated Wild, so this could have gone either way…
As an investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash, his increasingly confessional series of letters to a vending machine company catch the attention of a customer service rep with whom he forms an unlikely connection.
We are thrusted straight into the action as Davis (Gyllenhaal) and Julia (Heather Lind) are on their way to work. The two of them are caught up in a huge car accident that leaves Davis a widower. Demolition then takes us on a path of some sort of redemption for Jake’s character.
Davis has paid very little attention to his wife, job and even his own life. He has missed the little things in life like a tree he passes every day to work has uprooted and he zones out when people are talking to him. Once this accident occurs, he re-evaluates his life by reaching out to a customer service team member at a vending machine company.
We meet Karen (Watts) as she is the colleague that picks up Davis’ confessional letters that he has sent to her company. He sends her these because he wants some M&Ms after his wife dies but the vending machine is broken – this is the pivotal moment in the film. From here, he slowly realises he’s neglected his own life and wants to put things right, one by one.
Jean-Marc has followed the character growth method he used in Wild. Demolition is very much Davis’ story as Wild was Cheryl’s. Both films focus on finding the identity of the core protagonist. I am pleased to confirm though that Demolition is much better than Wid. The majority of reasons is down to the impressive Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s simply masterful in everything he does. Don’t get me wrong, he can do a few duff projects but he’s always the highlight in them all.
Demolition is no different. Jake has a complex role to play. He’s selfish, pessimistic and narcissistic – but strangely likeable and you root for him. Perhaps the death of his wife is the reason you will for him but in the back of your head, you know he’s been a bit of niggard. The level of character growth in Davis is astonishing and the best feat Jake possesses in Demolition is that he takes the audience with him, we are told things about his life at the same time he is – Jake has our buy-in.
The same can be said for Vallée to a certain extent. Demolition is a difficult tale to tell with many factors needing to be taken on board. We have Karen’s role as the mysterious friend of Davis’, we have Julia’s distraught and distant parents and we have Karen’s son who forms an unlikely friendship with Jake. Jean-Marc has a topsy-turvy performance with Demolition as he nails certain scenes with his direction but also lacklustre in others.
The plot can be a little disjointed from time-to-time with many flashbacks but it is till simple to follow, I’m just not sure we need all the avant-garde shots. Demolition is quite arthouse and experimental for Vallée but to be fair it was a welcomed approach in some areas. With the trailer and plot synopsis the only thing to go on before we see the film, I was worried it would have been another standard ‘man finding himself after losing a loved one’ kind of movie. But the inclusion of the arthouse techniques and a key character in Chris (Karen’s son, Judah Lewis) who is a revelation to the plot, it really makes Demolition tick. There are some great scenes between Jake and Judah including a hardware store sequence when they discuss Chris’ sexuality – it’s highly amusing.
On the whole, Demolition makes decent viewing. Gyllenhaal is back to his best and proves no role is too difficult for him. His chemistry with both Judah and Naomi Watts is pivotal to make the audience believe in the plot - which we fully do. I just think at times the plot is elongated with unnecessary scenes and it could easily be streamlined. Vallée does a better job here than with Wild but still falls shout of Dallas Buyers Club. With one more round of re-writes before this was shot, we’d be looking at a 4+ star film.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
Demolition was screening at the Phoenix Leicester and has a limited UK release – certificate 15