Demolition Movie Review
Fox Searchlight’s Demolition is the story of a man numbed by monotony until he is thrust into disorder, provided a hammer, and told the only way to understand is to deduce by destruction. “If you want to fix something, you have to take it all apart and figure out what’s important.” Demolition is worth the effort. Welcome to our Demolition movie review.
There is nothing steady nor clean about Demolition, but that’s where the precision lies. A precision not so much targeted on the polish and caliber of the cinematography, but on the subjective state of the protagonist Davis Mitchell, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He is uncertain, unstable, and unpolished. Due to his existential crisis, the death of his wife which he witnessed, every event, experience, circumstance, and relationship occupies his immediate proximity. Thus, the camera work emulates his state with a constant subtle tremble and a short range of spatial intimacy to Davis. Though I was initially skeptical of this film’s shaky style, I soon understood how compatible it was content-wise.
Davis’ self-unawareness and maddening incomprehension of himself yearn to escape from its tomb. The camera’s stubborn shake could not represent his interior any better. The downside of this stubborn shake is that opportunities for remarkable shots are sacrificed. However, they are sacrificed for the exact representation of Davis’ current state. It is plenty justified.
The cinematography is grounded in Davis’ subjectivity; it could not be anything but rumbling from Davis, in a straightjacket, ramming the walls of his emotional confinement.
This film could have been titled Demolition: As a Matter of Fact.
There is a dark, dry humor that so provides comic relief and remembrance of the films tragic basis. Each laugh cuts through a preceding tear. It’s impossible to resist loving Demolition’s mild degree of facetiousness.
Contemptuous humor, however, is only a minor chunk of Demolition’s personality. The majority is occupied by Davis’ childlike disregard for the severity of the circumstances and emotional unintelligence. The result is an absurd, unavoidable fondness for the temperament of the film and Davis as a pretend adult.
Demolition handles the material’s mucky severity with Davis running through his pristine house, wearing filthy shoes, leaving muddy footprints. You hope he’ll clean them up though you can’t be sure. You can’t help but lower your face into your palm, chuckle, and peer through the slits between your fingers to see what mess will come next.
The Characters are the Content
Let’s get to Davis.
Davis is not only the protagonist of this film, he is the vanguard. Every event and consequence that occurs is either a direct or indirect result of his initial action. Davis does and all else react. This is a welcome contradiction for both Davis and the viewer. It’s clear from the onset that Davis subdued all his notions, personal aspirations, and pivotal emotions throughout his entire life. He did so because “it was easy.” He would go through the motions of his routine, do and see everything without ever paying attention. Attention to his surroundings, his circumstances, and ultimately, his dissatisfaction. Thus, he was never much of an influence or catalyst to anyone or anything, including himself.
For once in his life, Davis radically deviates from his detrimental numbing habits, and finally has a say in his behavior and his life. For once in his life, he is exposed, and he matters. All as a result of an immediate tragedy that shatters the lock on his dull cushioned cell, and frees him into a sensational reality. He can no longer silence his suppressed demand to feel. And feel, he does; as you do with him.
Davis is so unaware and disconnected from himself. Ironically, it’s logical how he can only divulge to some anonymous customer service worker, played by Naomi Watts. After all, she couldn’t be a danger to him, nor would her judgment towards him matter so heavily. Also, at the least, she is an obligated ear to vent to. This woman ends up being much more than just an ear. Avoiding spoilers, Karen, is a mirror of Davis’ true state: frantic, disorganized, and full of childlike charisma. Her radical, yet contemporarily normal son, Chris, played by Judah Lewis, fits their dynamic all the same. Karen and her son are both unexpected perfect matches for Davis’ disoriented search for understanding.
Along the way, Davis gradually exchanges everything and everyone. As he jackhammers deeper into his true self, he inevitably strays from the false. He slowly discards his ostensibly disapproving father-in-law, Phil, played by Chris Cooper, for his liberation and Karen’s lifestyle. Phil is the asshole Davis would have become if he stuck to his monotonous path. Yet, Phil is not entirely bad. He’s only aggressive and hurtful because the emptiness left by his one irreplaceable love was filled with a disrespectful, unloving son-in-law.
You can’t blame him. He is Davis at the end of the wrong path. One of his two joys wasted her life on an inattentive man. And now, he’s left where he’s without that integral worth to his life. To top it off, the man that devastated that joy is either absent or laughing from across the room with a giddy smirk. It’s more difficult not to side with him at times.
Demolition’s characters are people. They all have a distinct personality, past, depth, and crushing hamartia. The plot does not progress in spite of them, it thrives because of them.
Demolition is just that. It discreetly bashes at your sentimentality until your sympathy is impossible to subdue. Stellar actors who play complex characters deserving the title of Real People. Does Demolition have a lasting effect? Not so much. Yes, this film is subtly powerful and perfectly composed for the content it presents. However, the content is neither new nor outstanding.
Most will connect with the characters and enjoy the film as a whole. Will it be re-watched more than once or chiseled into the pillars and stones of film history? No. Demolition provides a meaningful experience that is well worth the emotional toll and withdrawal from your wallet. It’s unnecessary to tear Demolition apart to recognize its particular importance.
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All photos are the courtesy and property of FOX Searchlight Pictures.