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Demolition – Movie Review

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Demolition – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy VVS Films

A character study about grief can fall apart rather easily, if not handled with the proper care. The direction could be ham-fisted, the performance could feel fake and the script ripe with cliché and obvious symbolism. Under the hand of director Jean-Marc Vallee, he manages to avoid these trappings with Demolition. While dealing with the death of his wife in a different way, it becomes fascinating watching Davis go through these unusual emotions and the screenplay also throws in subtle moments of humour that elevate the film into becoming something memorable. The plot devices could have not worked, but they somehow do, because of the considerations of everyone involved.

At the centre of Demolition is Jake Gyllenhaal in a layered turn that drifts subtly between sadness and humour. This is a broken man trying to come to grips with the death of his wife in his own way. Even if it was a unstable marriage, the viewer buys his reaction to this woman’s death. When he becomes bothered enough by a broken vending machine to send a lengthy complaint and journal entry to the company, it actually seems like an effective healing process. These letters, as read in voice-over by Gyllenhaal, showcase some of the funnier qualities of Bryan Sipe’s screenplay and allows the story to branch into other subplots in a clever manner. It’s also an good use of exposition and the back-story never becomes superfluous.

The relationships Davis breaks and forges are what move the plot forward in Demolition and allows Vallee and Sipe to tap into what makes him tick. Chris Cooper displays both sorrow and anger at seeing his son-in-law react so unorthodoxly to his daughter’s death. His friendship with Naomi Watts’s Karen Moreno is believable as she tries to figure out and understand this strange man who keeps sending her letters. Judah Lewis is given the troubled youth to play, the sort of character that has appeared countless times in fiction and his love of black nail polish and hard rock are obvious clichés of this archetype. Yet the script somehow makes all of this work, partially because Lewis makes Chris feel real and not an obvious caricature.

The production design of the film serves a greater purpose than we’re accustomed to in contemporary-set movies. Davis takes great delight out of destroying his square modern home and it becomes a riot to watch him smash it up. With these new houses, there is a lack of an identity and homeliness. Davis lives there out of necessity rather than genuine enjoyment. While the Moreno house may be more rundown, there’s a lived-in quality that sets it far apart from Davis’s home. It’s by moving away from his posh existence that Davis becomes human, thus fueling his connection with the trouble making Chris.

Demolition presents a different portrait of grief and it thankfully never ends up becoming overtly sentimental, as is the norm with Jean-Marc Vallee’s work. It also allows the filmmaker to take a break from the biopics he has made lately. Jake Gyllenhaal has also found a niche for himself working on small films from auteur directors and really pushing himself. It’s a different role for him and one that shows he is one of the most consistent actors today. Even a scene where he’s merely listening to music and strutting down the street doesn’t look ridiculous when performed by Gyllenhaal. That he has a solid script to work with only helps his performance to become one of his finest to date.

Stefan Ellison

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