-An underrated drama that details death with heart-breaking clarity, and a messy, but well-acted biopic about a certain legendary trumpeter.

Jean-Marc Vallee finally hit the American mainstream with two critically acclaimed pieces in a row with 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club and 2014’s Wild, both actor’s movies with a profound character arc and wonderful performances from the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern.

When his next film Demolition opened up 2015’s TIFF, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, and Naomi Watts; I was in. Although it’s fair that Fox Searchlight waited until April to release this, as I would argue that it’s probably not a true Oscar contender, it is much better than the mixed reviews have alluded to.

People tend to be so idealistic about love and relationships, so in this film, when Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife (Heather Lind) in a car crash, he reacts by being numb and slightly unhinged, as opposed to sad. He states in the trailer that, “there was love, I just didn’t take care of it.” His days blend into each other, and he begins to fracture the excellent rapport built up with business partner/father-in-law Chris Cooper. The fact that he reacts with such numbness is off-putting for many people, who may not understand the way he begins to behave. The title, Demolition, refers to Davis’s destruction of everything close to him, physical and emotional, following the loss. The night of her death, he is robbed of Peanut M&Ms by a faulty vending machine, so he writes a series of complaint letters telling the story of his marriage.

The film’s second plot is activated when his letters are answered by customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts) who Davis befriends. Through her, he also befriends her rebellious son Chris (Judah Lewis). While Davis learns to grieve properly, his professional life begins to slip.

Now, Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the age’s finest actors, whether it be for his more experimental performances in films like Donnie Darko, Nightcrawler, Enemy, or Love & Other Drugs, or his more dramatic traditional performances in films like Brokeback Mountain, Southpaw, Zodiac, End of Watch, or Prisoners. He is as great as ever in this film, showing the complex nature of his character’s feelings while retaining the sympathy towards the loss for the character. Despite some despicable decisions or a lack of understanding for his numbness, Gyllenhaal portrays Davis with a likability and an occasionally comedic undertone. Scenes with him and Chris Cooper, where we delve into the marriage and watch how dysfunctional Davis has become are truly brilliant and often heart-breaking, when he sees his wife in shadows or feels her presence where he normally would, but realizes she’s gone.

It derails slightly when getting into the strange sub-plot about the complaint letters. When it ends up as more than just an outlet for Davis to tell his story, it’s unwanted and feels like a tonal departure from the thick drama that surrounds the remainder of the movie. Naomi Watts may be a strong actress, but she’s not needed here, and it isn’t until we get to know her son, played by the young Judah Lewis, that we excuse her appearance in the film at all. Surprisingly, the kid/adult relationship actually worked, even if it is far away from the ‘my wife just died’ drama. Tonal inconsistency and a few splayed subplots hold this movie back from being excellent, but it’s still well-acted and often really sad, and the uniqueness of the main character is enough for me to recommend.

3.5 stars

Demolition

Genre: Drama

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis, and Heather Lind

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, The Young Victoria)

RT Score: 51%

 

-Part of Miles Davis’s timeless appeal comes from his ability to always be ahead of the trends of jazz. Jazz followed him, not the other way around, so why Don Cheadle decided to direct a story about Davis during his five year hiatus is a mystery. Skipping his be-bop start, and hard bop/cool jazz career peak, the film shows Miles beginning to tamper with the electronic jazz and jazz fusion that defined his mixed reception secondary career in the 80s.

Davis is also played by Don Cheadle in a very strong and committed performance, that is set loose when Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) comes knocking for answers, a series of unfortunate events leads to Davis and Braden chasing down a stolen demo tape of Miles’s, as Miles remembers events from his past, revolving mostly around his tumultuous relationship with his first wife Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), while confronting studio exec Harper (Michael Stuhlbarg), pushing a new trumpet sound on Columbia Records (Keith Stanfield).

This is the second music biopic in a row that I’ve watched that refuses to do the music correctly. We’ll get to Born to be Blue in a later review, but it’s frustrating to go see a movie about Miles Davis and it not include his music at all. It’s a tough scenario, but Ewan McGregor does save some of the later scenes with a solid performance. Truthfully, there are good performances all around in this movie, including Michael Stuhlbarg, but I struggle to accept a movie about Miles Davis that doesn’t really do Miles Davis. Also, the editing choices and cinematography oversaw by rookie director Cheadle make the film seem plodding and often rushed without a purpose. It’s fine, but it’s not a unique, interesting biopic as advertised.

2.5 stars

Miles Ahead

Genre: Drama

Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Keith Stanfield

Director: Don Cheadle (X)

RT Score: 71%

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