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Demolition

Year: 2016
Production Co: Black Label Media
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Brian Sipe
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah lewis

Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a successful investment banker at the firm owned by his father-in-law (Chris Cooper), although by his own admission the work isn't very hard and he got where he was through good old-fashioned nepotism.

His beautiful wife Julia (Heather Lind) is killed when a car runs into theirs and Davis starts to come undone. His father-in-law and boss is becoming increasingly angry at his lack of grief and his apparently not caring much about his wife's death. He feels stifled in the beautiful, clean-lined house they shared and finds himself drawn to destruction, paying two building site workers to let him demolish a house with them.

Strangest of all he befriends a woman, Karen (Naomi Watts), in the most darkly comic of circumstances. When a vending machine at the hospital fails to give him his candy – the blood from the accident still on his clothes – he decides to write a letter of complaint, telling whatever customer service drone that reads it everything about his life, his marriage and what he's lost. Davis, the film seems to be saying, is not all right.

But the woman who works in the office of a small vending machine distribution business is taken by his honesty, and after Karen calls Davis late one night to tell him, the two strike up a friendship. Davis starts hanging around and eventually sleeping at Karen's house – even after she lays out the rules early on that there'll be no sex – also winning over her smart-mouthed, angry son Chris (Judah Lewis).

Demolition is as assured as all director Jean-Marc Vallée's films have been so far, but unlike Wild, there's a far less straightforward story in all the arresting imagery and dreamy transitions, and Demolition suffers for it.

It seems on the surface to be another fable of modern ennui, the endlessly popular genre that's given us everything from American Beauty and Bulworth to Fight Club and Trainspotting. From very early on it seems like it's the story of Davis cutting off his grief and suffering a total mental breakdown because of it.

Then new details emerge about his relationship with his wife and parents in law. He looks miserable in flashbacks with Julia where his time with Karen brings him to life, a feeling it seems he's never known. But it turns out not to be about that. Then you think it's going to be about his connection with Chris – especially when the latter starts to question his sexuality to Davis as he starts to trust the older man – but it's not about that either.

You also think it might be about mental illness, a sham marriage or even about learning that material goods aren't the path to happiness, but it seems to be about all those things just a little bit and nothing overall.

Too many story threads are spun up and let go, never revisited and never resolved. It's one of those movies that reminds you smart audiences don't need everything tied up in a neat bow, but that a movie needs a story that makes a point no matter how well deftly subplots are woven into it.

None of which means Vallée isn't a good filmmaker. A lot of the time he keeps the camera close to the action and the sound turned up, every footstep and background noise uncomfortably loud, ratcheting up tension because you know when something finally happens it's going to be too loud and too close for comfort.

The cinematography by Vallée's usual collaborator Yves Bélanger is certainly beautiful and the story meanders and drifts seamlessly through flashbacks and the main narrative, much like Wild did so successfully. Unlike Wild, Demolition doesn't really have anything to say and if it does, it's too hard to spot under all the subplot and subtext.

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