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DEMOLITION (USA 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Heather Lind, Chris Cooper
Review by Gilbert Seah
I had a conversation with a friend about houses a month ago. He claims that modern houses have no character unlike those like the old buildings in the French countryside. It is remarkable that in Jean-Marc Vallee’s latest film about life and what matters, the film hits the nail on the head of our conversation when the lead character, Davis says of his ultra-modern expensive home: “I hate this house. It’s just shiny stuff!” (Dvid demolishes it later on in the film.)
DEMOLITION tells the tale of a finance executive, trying to make sense of his life after the passing away of his wife. It totally makes sense as the accident occurs suddenly out of the blue, just as Vallee shocks the audience with the shock tactic of a car ramming into the couple’s, in the midst of conversation followed by a blank screen and news of the wife’s (Heather Lind) death. Davis Mitchell’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) father-in-law and head of the finance firm, Phil (Chris Cooper) tells him that in order to repair something, one has to take it apart and put it all together again to understand how it works. The trouble with Davis is that he can take things part but not put in back together. So, he takes it upon himself to tear down the leaking fridge or plumbing in the office washroom but not able to re-assemble he parts. And so his life is the same – he takes it apart, driving everyone, particularly Phil bonkers, but he cannot piece it all back together.
Vallee has created a very thoughtful film here – made more profound in that he leaves the audience to figure out what his film or hero is all about. He helps with a voiceover, provided by Davis himself as he writes to the vending company venting on one of the machines that is unable to put out an M&M’s peanuts package. The Public Relations of the company (Naomi Watts) is drawn into the story, with her son Chris (Judah Davis) helping him to make sense out of life.
Many other issues like coming-out (Chris’s) and gay bashing are tied into the story.
One conversation piece also brilliantly ties in to the message of what matters most in life. Chris swears constantly to which Davis says, “If you swear so much, the swearing loses its effect and you only look stupid.” Here, Davis has surprisingly hit the nail on the head as to what’s important and it then takes the kid to show him the way.
There are two too commonly used tactics in films that spoil the originality of DEMOLITION One is the shock tactic of the accident out of nowhere and the other is the hero running off into the sunset (as in Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS).
Still DEMOLITION is an interesting film, for sure as I have seen the film a second time (the first at the Toronto International Film Festival) and Vallee’s film still feels fresh in its storytelling and execution.
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