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dir Jean-Marc Vallee
scr Bryan Sipe
prd Lianne Halfon, Russ Smith, Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Sidney Kimmel, Jean-Marc Vallee
with Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, CJ Wilson, Polly Draper, Malachy Cleary, Debra Monk, Heather Lind, Wass Stevens, Blaire Brooks, Ben Cole
release US 8.Apr.16, UK 29.Apr.16
15/US Fox 1h41
Tear it all down: Gyllenhaal and Lewis
TORONTO FILM FEST
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At one point in this drama, the lead character remarks that everything in his life seems like a metaphor, which is clearly the entire point. Indeed, this film feels a little on-the-nose as a man expresses the confusion of grief by acting out in a variety of nutty ways. But it's so sharply well written, directed and acted that the film resonantly transcends the symbolism.
When his wife (Lind) dies in a car crash, high-flying Wall Street banker Davis (Gyllenhaal) loses his grip on reality. Or maybe he's seeing his life clearly for the first time. His boss and father-in-law Phil (Cooper) is perplexed by Davis' strange behaviour, as he begins dismantling everyday items to see why they aren't working properly. He also expresses his true feelings to customer services rep Karen (Watts), then worms his way into her life with her confused 15-year-old son Chris (Lewis), with whom he has more in common than he knows.
Gyllenhaal invests a full spectrum of humour, emotion and physicality into this role, portraying a man who has coasted along in life until now, never questioning the trajectory expected of him. So when he's forced to stop and look, everything seems absurd. Gyllenhaal beautifully mixes Davis' intelligence and childishness in his interaction with each of the surrounding characters. Watts and Cooper are equally transparent as people with their own issues who are forced into a new perspective. And Lewis makes a stand-out debut in a particularly engaging role.
The film is full of scenes in which Davis speaks the uncomfortable truth, including things that are considered politically incorrect. But all of this is played in a cleverly offhanded way that makes the point without preaching it. One of the best moments is a conversation in a DIY shop, when Chris, out of nowhere, asks Davis, "Am I gay?" Davis' response to his further questions are both provocative and refreshingly honest. This is a man who is, yes, demolishing the artifice he so carefully built up around him.
With this meta approach, the script makes some of the themes rather obvious. But even in its energetic or blackly humorous moments, director Vallee cleverly keeps the film thoughtful, seeing everything through Davis' complex swirl of clear-eyed curiosity and hauntingly emotional memories. It's remarkably open-hearted filmmaking that never quite takes the expected route, making a series of discoveries that are revelatory and powerfully moving.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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