Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a roll as of late, choosing a string of extremely interesting characters to play over his last few films. There was the psychological thriller, Enemy, the high-brow sci-fi flick Source Code, and the acclaimed boxing epic, Southpaw, to name a few. And to name a few more, how about his roles in End of Watch, Prisoners or Everest? Among all of these achievements however, Gyllenhaal's best performance in recent years was as the psychopath Louis Bloom in 2014's Nightcrawler, a role that should-a, would- a, could-a been nominated for an Oscar. Unfortunately for Gyllenhaal (and us), his streak comes to a smashing, sudden halt with Demolition (opening today), a severely misguided drama that explodes into bits and never quite comes back together.
Gyllenhaal plays Davis Mitchell, an equally eccentric man when compared to his Louis Bloom character in Nightcrawler but infinitely less-compelling. Nothing seems to stoke Davis's interest, and his wife (Heather Lind) can't get him to even listen to her as they sit in traffic. His mind wanders, and we learn that this man has very little connection to any real emotion. This is tested greatly when (spoiler alert!) a tragedy takes his wife from him following a horrific accident.
We see just how odd Davis is when, in the hospital, he has a problem with a vending machine. Instead of grieving or showing any emotion at all, he instead becomes consumed with the vending machine and decides to write letter after letter to the vending machine's manufacturer. His letters serve as narration into this obsessive-compulsive mind as we wait for his tough exterior to show signs of cracking.
None of this is good for his job as a big-wig executive ran by his father-in-law (Chris Cooper). But suddenly one night, Davis receives a phone call late at night from a customer service representative who has been reading his letters...this woman (Naomi Watts) is oddly fascinated by Davis's words and soon becomes obsessed with this troubled, troubled man.
At almost every turn in Demolition, there are misfires and tired contrivances. The biggest flaw of all is that this time around, Gyllenhaal is not able to make us care about his character whatsoever. He is a jerk, a loner, a loser. Some early signs of humanity would have done this story well, but instead we are led to believe that Davis was an a**hole far before the accident. So what do we care if he is able to finally grieve for his dead wife?
In addition, the film includes a lot of pretentious symbolism and lame attempts at dark humor. There is a lot of talk in the film about people being broken into pieces (get it? Demolition! Pieces! Ahem). But it's important that we care about what was broken to begin with...it keeps us caring about what is being put back together. Without this, the film is just a jumbled wreck of rubble.
Things get literal as the film goes on, and Davis teams up with the lady's young, impressionable boy (Judah Lewis), and the two blow stuff up and do a whole myriad of crazy-stupid activities together. None of it rings true or feels authentic. By the time they introduce the idea that the boy is struggling with his sexuality, and that Davis's wife might have been pregnant, it enters full-on After-School Special territory. Bleh.
We know Gyllenhaal can play these sort of dark, odd characters...he's done it quite well throughout his impressive career. But Demolition makes a fatal mistake by forgetting to build a foundation. With this sort of cast, with an Oscar-nominated director at the helm, you would expect fireworks from Demolition. Instead, they've sent up a dud.
Run Time: 1 hour, 40minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis Screenplay by Bryan Sipe (The Choice, Alpha Mail)
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria)
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