I don’t think I have ever been as excited to see something at a film festival before as I was going into Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest, Demolition. Following up Wild, one of my absolute favorites of 2014, Demolition tells the story of Davis Mitchell (played to complete perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who is struggling to get his life back on track after losing his wife Julia in a car accident. Opening up with the car crash, the next scene finds Davis sound asleep in a hospital as his father-in-law, Phil (played by the always fantastic Chris Cooper) approaches him and bluntly tells him that Julia has died. Taking the news rather unordinarily, the first thing Davis goes to do is to buy a pack of Peanut M&M’s from a vending machine at the hospital. After he puts his five quarters in the change slot and pushes “B2” on the machine, the M&M’s begin to work their way out, but stop just as they are about to fall out. More affected by the fact that the vending machine ate his five quarters than his wife dying, Davis aggravatedly explains to the people at the front desk what happened, just hoping to be able to get what he paid for, but they quickly tell him that they have nothing to do with it and tell him to get in contact with the owner, Champion Vending Company.
After a day or two, Davis sits down and begins to pen a hand-written letter to the vending machine company to let out some steam after the hectic couple of days he has just had since losing his wife. Vallée admittedly uses this as a time to fill in the viewer about Davis’ life, but with such a vibrant script from Bryan Sipe, this sequence somehow works. Sipe’s tight screenplay is full of so much information about who Davis Mitchell is that you are bound to miss some of it on first go-around. Very rarely am I as invested in a character as I was with Gyllenhaal’s in Demolition. Vallée carries out Sipe’s narrative trajectory to absolute perfection, as his directorial flair matches the exact creative vision as Sipe’s on the page. For a debut script, it’s unbelievable how well Sipe can establish who his characters are and manage to create genuinely compelling relationships that are able to make Demolition such an emotionally gratifying experience.
One of the many things that makes Vallée, at least for me, one of the most rewarding filmmakers working today is his ability to push out some of the most impressive performances that his actors have ever given. With Demolition, Jake Gyllenhaal gives an arguably career-best performance, with the only exception might being Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal brings such a remarkable amount of commitment to his role, which is what ultimately carries the film at such an extraordinarily fast pace, as it is over in what feels like a blink of an eye. His chemistry with Naomi Watts is, as expected, flawless. Sharing one of most interesting character relationships I have seen in a film in quite a long time, the two play off of each other in some of the most surprisingly delightful ways, as their friendship avoids going in the direction most would think it was going in. Vallée’s current trajectory as a filmmaker is one that appears to be unstoppable. His last three films have only been getting better and better, and Demolition is one that is surely going to be hard for him top. It’s this rare masterwork that immediately has you hungry to see it again and again.