In just a few short years of bursting on the American film circuit, French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee has delivered award worthy pictures with Wild and Dallas Buyers Club. There is something raw about his films that attract actors looking to step out of their comfort zone. Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Southpaw) is an actor who chases roles that allow him to explore various facets of his own personality. Demolition is the most uneven of Vellee’s popular American films, yet it’s a film that has significant storytelling highs, captivating lows and another impressive performance for Gyllenhaal’s own confident, self-admiration.

It took losing his wife to be jolted out of a mundane and repetitive existence. Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) hasn’t been able to cry for his wife, he isn’t numb from shock or loss, he just doesn’t feel anything. Instead, he is more concerned with why the vending machine at the hospital can’t perform the basic function of giving him the M&M’s he paid for. “To understand how things work you have to take them apart if you want to know how to fix them,” his father says. Davis takes this literally, as his increasingly fragmented state of mind is pulled in different directions. Through unusual circumstances Davis meets Karen Morano (Watts),

There are often too many moments played for laughs that undercut much of the films emotional impact occurring in the third act.

Vallee has turned Brian Sipe’s personal and self-reflecting script into a real acting vehicle for Gyllenhaal. You don’t have to look very far into the Oscar nominated actors filmography to understand why this particular role appealed to him. He is allowed to play two very different versions of the same man, which is visually represented by the clean shaven Davis from the past to the scruffy and eventually bearded reinvention. It’s tricky dealing with both comedy and drama in such difficult subject matter, Vallee isn’t known for friendly or feel good stories. There are often too many moments played for laughs that undercut much of the films emotional impact occurring in the third act.

The editing of Demolition is particularly fascinating as it acts more like punctuation than connective tissue. There are a handful of scenes that weren’t edited enough and or could have been thrown out altogether (i.e. a scene where Davis has a heart scan). Watts as the cannabis smoking, distant mother figure is the films biggest casting mishap. It’s thrilling to see Oscar winner Cooper and Gyllenhaal back on screen since first appearing together in October Sky (1999). It feels like a full circle journey with Davis playing father figure for Judah Lewis who provides the story with one of the more surprising and compelling subplots. However, it’s some of those abandon subplots that hurt the films structure.

Final Thought

Offers Gyllenhaal another opportunity to display his extraordinary talent.


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