Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Polly Draper, Heather Lind, Debra Monk
Do you ever have one of those wretched days when the littlest thing because the item that pushes you over the edge? For Davis (Gyllenhaal), it’s the vending machine that is that item. His world is turned upside down when his wife, Julia (Lind), is killed in a head-on collision. He survived the car accident without a scratch. While he was in the hospital after the accident he lost some change in a vending machine and decides to write a letter to the company about his loss, the loss being his money and his wife. Karen (Watts), their sole customer service rep, responds after Davis sends four letters to the company. She takes an interest in his story, and it’s not long before they meet up and a new friendship ensues between them. Like Davis, she is a bit unstable herself. She’s sleeping with the CEO of the company, is a big stoner, and has a thirteen-year-old son (Lewis). At first, he doesn’t seem to know how to cope with the loss. He begins to carry out his day, business as usual. He shows up for work as if nothing has happened. Curiosity starts to set in for Davis who feels like destruction is the only way to break down his life into realizing what’s important. He approaches it in a metaphorical sense and a physical sense when he decides to take apart his office bathroom stall, a cappuccino maker, and tear up his house. Davis, Karen, and her son Chris all find themselves on a path of crisis and self-identity.
Demolition is another starring vehicle for Gyllenhaal to show off just how versatile he continues to be as an actor. The beginning bares a slight resemblance to his film Southpaw from last year as both have the wife character dying at the beginning which acts as a catalyst to how the story unfolds. Davis is far different than his Southpaw boxer. Bryan Sipe’s script takes the character on an unstable path as he tries to cope with his loss. It’s not the typical drug and alcohol fueled binge we typically see with characters who experience a sudden death. It seems like we are going back to the old Gyllenhaal that we haven’t seen in a few years. His last few films like Southpaw and Nightcrawler have felt like “transformation” kinds of characters for him. With Davis, I saw a stripped down and vulnerable kind of character. In turn, he gives another exceptional performance and clearly shows the risks and challenges he takes on with the projects he chooses.
It should be noted that this isn’t just the Gyllenhaal Show as all three of the main characters are edgy, loose cannons making the film fairly unpredictable as to how far and quirky they will go to get their lives on the right track. It’s great seeing Naomi Watts (The Impossible, The Divergent Series) take on this kind of character. Judah Lewis, who plays her son, equally stands out as a teen who’s desperately trying to fit into his own skin when he doesn’t have the best influences around him. In one scene, he attempts to come out of the closet to Davis and ask him for his advice on the situation. Davis doesn’t give the most helpful response in return. Gyllenhaal is reuniting for the third time with his October Sky dad, Chris Cooper, who plays his father-in-law here. Their other film was Sam Mendes’ war drama Jarhead.
The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée who previously made Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. Both of those earned Oscar nominations for its leads. Demolition was originally slated for a fall 2015 release to continue on that trend, but was bumped to April 2016 lessening its Oscar chances. All three of these films have characters with a drive toward self-discovery. Frankly, this has been my favorite of his so far. Davis really teeters back and forth on having a complete breakdown versus having clarity leaving you to question if the craziness of one can lead to the next. The erratic nature of characters will divide audiences. It will be easy to dismiss the absurdity behind someone who is wealthy but takes his grief out on destroying his gorgeous house and ruining his job. While I’ve never been in that situation and don’t necessarily approve of his actions, I emphasized with Davis and really understood his plight of wanting to tear his life up in order to figure out how to put it back together. He goes to greater lengths than I ever would, but Gyllenhaal brings an understanding to him. The cinematography by Yves Bélanger (Brooklyn, Wild) is oddly beautiful and whimsical despite the rough exterior of how Davis takes out his aggression.
Demolition may leave you a bit puzzled as the credits start to roll as you question if you can enjoy and buy into the behavior of our characters. It sat with me for days thanks to the performances by Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis, Chris Cooper, and especially Jake Gyllenhaal. He continues to give inspired and powerful performances and is one of the best actors of his generation. He doesn’t always make big-budget studio films, but his work should be seen and recognized.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Gyllenhaal and Watts give exceptional performances for two characters that are far from it.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS