Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Watts’

French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has found a great deal of success in the past two years with his Oscar-nominated pictures Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, so it is a little bit of a surprise to see him so unfocused here. He has a more than capable cast at his disposal with the ever enticing Jake Gyllenhaal leading the charge, as a man who discovers his life has been something of a lie – after his wife dies in a car crash, which he survives.

Initially Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) has what many would consider the perfect life: a beautiful, smart wife, a highly lucrative job in investment banking and a nice house in the New York state suburbs. While penning a therapeutic letter to a snack vending machine company – who are responsible for a machine that doesn’t dispense the requested sweets – Mitchell realises in mourning that his life has no substance. He admits that he barely understood his wife, his job was earned on “pure nepotism” (as the CEO is his father-in-law) and due to its nature there was never “anything physical you could hold in your hands” other than the profits made. Furthermore, Mitchell realises that he has merely coasted through life, not really paying attention to anyone and living purely through material objects.

So his newfound focus on “everything being a metaphor” is a believable, if not entirely original, conceit as this widower begins to see the world differently; he pays more attention to the world around him and finds the titular act of “demolition” particularly cathartic, especially when he destroys his own marital house. Gyllenhaal too does a decent job of showing the once fairly shallow Davis transforming into a more attenuative character.

The problem comes when Davis begins practising this in the real world. His new found freedom makes him a far more sympathetic character, but there’s no real progression of this idea throughout the film beyond: wife dies, realises stuff, makes some concessions at the end. It is claimed in the film that “total honesty is your thing” about the new-born Davis, which even he jokes about, as if this is a reason to explain the film’s spotty narrative.

Elsewhere, the film lacks much focus or direction. After a while, his continued letters to the vending company gets a response from a mysterious blonde. Eventually, they cross paths on Davis’ commuter train, and it turns that she is Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who let Davis into her life in a plutonic relationship, mostly out of sympathy for his soul through his letters. The film then becomes a dark, romantic comedy and for Karen’s son Chris (Judah Lewis), a coming of age tale which half-heartedly deals with his potentially burgeoning homosexuality. Troubling is Karen’s addiction to Marijuana and her boyfriend and boss Carl (C.J Wilson) who is a gun-toting “good guy” apparently.

While Davis is a more than polite guest in Karen and Chris’s lives, it is a problematic relationship that tries to make some slightly ill-conceived comment on class differences. The main point seems to be that the rich are a bit selfish, until someone dies and that the working class are not good at looking after themselves, but are more creatively expressive.

It’s a shame because Demolition – despite throwing several half-baked ideas at the screen – does has some genuine warmth to it. Gyllenhaal makes the best of a bad situation, delivering a strong performance that ranges from genuinely humorous, to emphathetic, to sad indifference. Lewis is excellent as the conflicted teenage son, but none of this really means anything without a properly realised narrative to back it up. One feels there is a great film rattling around in Demolition somewhere, it just required more care to truly realise it.

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Director Alejandro González Iñárritu made a name for himself with a series of multi-stranded, seriously serious films, most notably Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Biutiful. The Mexican’s latest work is said to be somewhat of a departure, lighter in tone, set around one single location, and with some actual (whisper it) jokes. While on the surface it might seem a new leaf for Iñárritu, look a bit closer and you can see the same traits running through his previous films.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a washed up actor famous for playing a nineties superhero, who is trying to reclaim his reputation with a serious play on Broadway. A fully paid up misanthrope, Riggan spends his days trying to shepherd his failing play into something coherent, all the while having to contend with the hotpot of demanding women in his life. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering addict trying to stabilise herself as his assistant, Lesley (Naomi Watts) is the insecure lead of his production and his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) an unfortunate afterthought in the world of Riggan.

Yet it is Edward Norton as Mike who really rocks the boat. A last minute replacement/saviour, Mike is a sleazy yet talented hotshot who plays by his own rules and threatens to steal Riggan’s show from underneath him. Iñárritu films his cast almost solely in one location, a New York theatre, utilising the claustrophobia and endless corridors to dazzling effect. Shot in a frantic, marauding style by the virtuoso DP Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is edited to appear as one singular take, the camera essentially buzzing off the energy of the actors, much like a John Cassavetes film.

This is the best part of the film; the sheer energy of the film-making and the actors. It has been noted that the extended take can bring about a sense of hypnosis and disorientation in the viewer; recently we have seen the excellent True Detective utilise a breathless 6 minute tracking shot, and Enter The Void had a similarly feverish, dreamlike feel to it. The improvisational feel of the film is emboldened by a raw, jazzy percussion soundtrack, echoing the snappy action on screen. The actors look like they are having a ball as well; Keaton is the hangdog delusional keeping things glued together, but Norton is the real star, turning in one of his best performances in years.

Audiences will leave the cinema feeling dazed alright. The zing of the cinematography, the screwball playfulness of the performances – it is for a large part a real treat. Yet when the dust settles and the last flashes of lightning have dissipated, what are we really left with? This film has four writers on it, a troubling sign, and it shows. The basic concept, of a tired actor trying to reinvent himself, is a tired concept in itself. Meta-narratives have been overdone in recent years and we have a much more interesting, poignant film about theatrical delusions in Synechdoche New York, Charlie Kauffman’s messy tragicomedy.

When we look closer at the characters, not many of them really stand up behind the hubris of the performances. Riggan is essentially a bit of a sexist pig who gets given an unearned penitence at the end. Then we have a whole host of talented actresses pushed to the wayside in order to validate Riggan’s oh-so-tortured existence. Iñárritu, meanwhile, has not really changed so much; he still has a habit of filling his films with wall to wall profundity. Not a scene goes by when a character doesn’t give some kind of overwrought speech about their secret wound. We are, after all, all human beings with feelings. 

So, Birdman. As a piece of film making, as a playground of performance, a real dazzler. Just don’t think about it too much.

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