Movie Review: “Demolition”


Jake Gyllenhaal makes some interesting movie choices, doesn’t he?

You don’t see him in ensemble pictures (“Everest”) often. He leans towards the idiocentric and the Jake-centric.

He’ll occasionally pair up with another “name” for a “Prisoners” or “Southpaw.”

But lately, twisted, front-and-center eccentrics have been more his thing, films like “Enemy”and “Nightcrawler.” Even if his eyes don’t bug out in “Demolition,” it’s easy to see this latest star vehicle as part of a somewhat indulgent pattern.

He plays a wealthy man of finance whose wife dies, who wanders about in a numbed stupor, confessing “I didn’t love my wife” to strangers, weighed down by guilt over not feeling guilty, fuming at a world that doesn’t seem to work or make sense.

Then, his sympathetic father-in-law (Chris Cooper) and boss drops some sage advice on him.

“If you want to fix something, you have to take everything apart…Then, you can put it all back together.”

That becomes a new mantra for Davis. He will take it all apart, everything. Almost.

It starts with glitchy computers and flickering light fixtures, and when he stumbles into a home demolition crew that will let him pitch in with the work, he goes bigger. Tear it all down. Pain? At least he’s feeling something.

One thing he cannot fix was the vending machine in the trauma unit at the hospital where his wife died. He sees Julia (Heather Lind) in every mirror, in every puddle he steps over. And he cannot get over the way that one machine failed him in his hour of need.

That’s what starts the letters, pages-long complaint/confessionals to the vending machine company, heartbreaking self-examinations hurled into the ether.

“Everything has become a metaphor,” he writes. “I am the storm that uprooted the tree.” And so on.

The trouble is, he’s mailing these missives. And this mystery woman, “Karen,” in customer service, is reading them. Can they meet? To, you know, just talk? Maybe. She has to stalk him for a bit, first. And he has to stalk her, as well.

It gives nothing away to say that Naomi Watts plays Karen, a single-mom strangely drawn to his man in mourning. She has a son (Judah Lewis) who is “fifteen, and looks twelve,” a sour, confused kid who bonds with this stranger, for good or ill.

And with Davis, it could go either way — trashing his house, goofing around with guns, giving advice on how to not over-use “the F-word” and sex.

“Demolition” is never less than interesting, thanks to Gyllenhaal’s thoughtful, considered performance. But it’s an indulgent movie, drifting through grief on a sea of cliches.

Watts disappears for much of the picture, and the family-wide grieving takes on distracting “Seinfeld” story elements.

But there is Gyllenhaal, first to last, in every scene and almost every shot. As he was in “Enemy” and “Nightcrawler” and, for that matter, “Donnie Darko” — a weird guy giving in to his weirdness, an actor lured by the promise of a showy, all-consuming performance. Even if the movie around that performance is more frustrating than cathartic.


MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual references, drug use and disturbing behavior

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Polly Draper
Credits: Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, script by Brian Sipe. A Fox Searchlight release.

Running time: 1:41

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