Grief Goes Explosive In 'Demolition' And 'Louder Than Bombs' Louder Than Bombs and Demolition both deal with car crashes and grieving men, but the damage looks very different.
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Grief Goes Explosive In 'Demolition' And 'Louder Than Bombs'

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Grief Goes Explosive In 'Demolition' And 'Louder Than Bombs'

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Movie Reviews

Grief Goes Explosive In 'Demolition' And 'Louder Than Bombs'

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A wife dies in a car crash. A husband grieves. From that simple premise come two complex films that open today. One is called "Louder Than Bombs," the other, "Demolition." NPR critic Bob Mondello says there is a reason for those explosive titles.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Davis is a successful financial exec who seems a little distracted when we meet him "Demolition" - a lot distracted, actually - like, perpetually distracted, even when something happens at the very beginning of the film that really ought to focus him - an automobile accident. But it doesn't focus him. Before he's even out of the hospital, Davis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is composing a letter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEMOLITION")

JAKE GYLLENHAAL: (As Davis Mitchell) Dear Champion Vending Company, this letter is in regards to vending machine 714 located in St. Andrew's Hospital, which should have given me peanut M&Ms. Regrettably, it didn't.

The machine over there - my candy's stuck.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It happen sometimes.

GYLLENHAAL: (As Davis Mitchell) I found this upsetting, as I was very hungry. And also, my wife had died 10 minutes earlier.

MONDELLO: As you might expect, this is a letter that gets a response. Naomi Watts plays the vending company's PR person.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEMOLITION")

NAOMI WATTS: (As Karen Moreno) This is Karen Moreno from Champion Vending Company. I'm calling in regards to your complaint letters. Do you have anyone to talk to?

MONDELLO: By this time, Davis is obsessing over how many things in his life besides vending machines don't work. The last words his wife said to him before she died were about fixing a leak in the fridge, so he starts by taking apart the fridge and then dismantling his computer and bathroom stalls that have squeaky doors and basically anything he thinks is broken. Initially, this involves screwdrivers, but after a while, it also involves sledge hammers and, when he decides his whole house has to go, a bulldozer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEMOLITION")

MONDELLO: Demolition, in Davis' case, is a metaphor. The script points that out several times, at once elegantly and a little on-the-nosedly (ph). Director Jean-Marc Vallee, the guy who made "Dallas Buyers Club," knows how to keep you engaged as Davis does the demolishing of his life, though not how to wrap things up when the demolition is complete. The film's conclusion is way neater than real life. For real life, though, there's the other film, "Louder Than Bombs."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOUDER THAN BOMBS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) ...Producing memorable images under extreme hazard. Congratulations.

MONDELLO: Near the beginning of "Louder Than Bombs," we see a video tribute to a war photographer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOUDER THAN BOMBS")

ISABELLE HUPPERT: (As Isabelle Reed) When I first started, I thought the job was to get as close as possible. The exciting part of it was probably what drew me to it.

MONDELLO: This video tribute was produced for an exhibition of work she had done for The New York Times. Gene, played by Gabriel Byrne, is watching footage of his wife, bleary-eyed, and we soon discover why.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOUDER THAN BOMBS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) In a twist of fate, having finally quit the hazardous world of conflict photography, Isabelle Reed died in a car accident less than a mile from her home in Nyack, N. Y. She was 57 years old, leaving behind her husband and two sons.

MONDELLO: Though it's been four years, Gene and his sons haven't really processed Isabelle's death, nor even talked about an aspect of it that a Times editor brings up while discussing an article about the exhibition.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOUDER THAN BOMBS")

DAVID STRATHAIRN: (As Richard) I don't think I can avoid mentioning how she died - that it wasn't really an accident.

GABRIEL BYRNE: (As Gene Reed) So are you saying that you want to write that she killed herself?

STRATHAIRN: (As Richard) Gene, I don't want to be a part of romanticizing what we do. Isabelle wouldn't either.

MONDELLO: Gene's younger son was 12 when his mother died. The older son was in college. Communication was never good in this family. And director Joachim Trier lets you see just how it gets short-circuited now - resentful older son Jesse Eisenberg setting himself up as a keeper of his mother's flame.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOUDER THAN BOMBS")

JESSE EISENBERG: (As Jonah Reed) I guess this suits you perfectly because then you can make her out to be the negligent parent, and you can be, like, the perfect parent.

MONDELLO: Withdrawn younger son Devin Druid following in his mother's creative footsteps with soul-bearing video project.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOUDER THAN BOMBS")

DEVIN DRUID: (As Conrad Reed) When mom was in Iraq, we always had dates in the house. I was nine, and I found a bullet with some of mom's stuff. I swallowed it.

MONDELLO: Dad, meanwhile, is left trying to bridge family chasms that gaped wide long before his wife died. The director creates a rich visual collage of dreams within flashbacks, gaming fantasies, TV footage that conflates actors with the characters they're playing and terrific performances. Isabelle Huppert makes the photographer an enigmatic presence worthy of the vastly different grieving being done by the men in the film. There is no catharsis, no smashing of objects, no demolition . What's louder than bombs here is the quiet, believable roar of anguish from a family in crisis. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Maybe you want to weigh in on Bob Mondello's review or something else you heard on the program. And you should know the conversation continues online.

SHAPIRO: The truth is Audie and I often have a conversation that is not on the air. And every now and then, you can get glimpses of it on social media.

CORNISH: It spills over just a bit.

SHAPIRO: You can find the show @npratc. We're also both on there.

CORNISH: And I'm @nprAudie.

SHAPIRO: And I'm @arishapiro, where lately you will fine me tweeting a fact about India each day ahead of my reporting trip there - #ATCinIndia.

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