Sunday, 17 July 2016


Demolition is the latest film from Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) and stars Jake Gyllenhaal in another of his roles as a dejected man who seems incapable of feeling emotions, a bit like how I felt at the end of this film.

Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) works in investment banking for his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper). Davis and his wife Julia (Heather Lind) are involved in a serious car-crash, and whilst she’s killed, he suffers only minor injuries. Wandering the wings of the hospital afterwards, he has an encounter with a dodgy vending machine and writes a complaint letter to the company that owns it, explaining his troubles for context in a unique form of grief that could only belong to a Gyllenhaal character. However, things take an interesting turn for Davis when he receives a response from customer service representative Karen (Naomi Watts). What follows is one of the most leisurely paced, unprofound, waffling films that we’ve seen so far this year.

Demolition starts off promisingly - a car-crash that will undoubtedly send Davis into a cinematic spiral of insanity - but what follows is...well, tedious. There’s always a couple each year, the films that could be brilliant but end up a conceited mess. Think Words and Pictures. Demolition is one of those. I’m not one to dismiss character-centric dramas, in fact I tend to take a high-horse attitude and think that if you judge a film solely on its supposed ‘lack of plot’, you’re most likely a toddler who hasn’t learnt to think for themselves - bloody plebs, am I right?. But the characters in Demolition are either unrelatable or just plain unlikable, which doesn’t leave much of interest to draw you in.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout there are these little references to 9/11, and whether intentional or not it felt as if it’s was pushing a not-so-subtle message toward how grief has evolved in a post-9/11 America. It also keeps drawing weird linkages between Davis’s dejection and how it could be cured by embracing his inner child. Whilst normally these would be buried deep into our subconscious viewing of the film, in Demolition there’s not a lot more to focus on and so they stand out like a sore thumb. It starts to skate the thin line between intellectual cinema and ‘art for art's sake’.

You also get the impression that detail is important to Davis, and so little close-up montages are scattered throughout. They work but only to a certain point, even though the editing is one of the better takeaways from this. Don’t get me wrong, there are other positives as well. There’s a scene right at the end with a carousel which was about the only time I felt something in the nearly two-hour run time, is that a positive? There’s certainly a handful of funny moments but it’s not laugh-out-loud. A lot of Yves Bélanger’s cinematography is well-constructed and interesting, even if the film isn’t. You can tell that both Gyllenhaal and Watts are invested in crafting good performances but that never really happens because of deeply flawed character writing/direction.

In the early stages of Davis’s downfall, you see him meticulously take things apart, but never put them back together. This film feels a bit like that, a series of scenes that should have some sort of coherence as a whole, but just don’t. It’s not awful, just frustrating, tedious, a waste of talent and of your time.

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