Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts
There’s an old theory that man is built to experience one great tragedy in its lifetime. Be it the death of a loved one or friend, the loss of limbs or bodily function, or perhaps a catastrophic accident of some kind, man cannot avoid a time of considerable heartache. ‘Demolition’, in essence, is about that one great tragedy, ripe with the pain and tumult with which it comes. As much as ‘Demolition’ wants you to believe it is about physically demolishing the past by destroying the things you once held dear in order to free yourself, this movie is so much more than that. While Jake Gyllenhaal looks to have loads of fun taking a sledgehammer to innocent drywall and household appliances, this film at its core remains an introspective take on coping with tragedy – the isolation, the detachment, and the fight to keep your shit together. And ‘Demolition’ certainly succeeds in conveying this poignancy.
‘Demolition’ stars Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell, an investment banker who loses his wife in a horrific car accident whilst leaving the scene materially unscathed. As Davis and his father-in-law/boss, Phil (Chris Cooper), deal with the loss and their now-nebulous relationship, the two strong men continuously butt heads as they grieve in their own ways. Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity), and Naomi Watts (who plays Davis’ newfound pal Karen) offer up superb supporting performances as they wade through the post-loss trials and Davis’ sporadic behavior, including some awesome sledgehammer-laden Extreme Home Makeover sequences.
Now, the elephant in the room – Jake Gyllenhaal as a movie star. Jake Gyllenhaal is a phenomenal actor who wants you to believe he’s just a normal, zany guy. Sure. Jake has all the talent in the world, but through everything you read and watch, it’s apparent Jake simply never wants to be “the guy.” Through consistently playing these tough, flawed characters, it’s almost as if he doesn’t want to be beloved for his acting chops. It’s understandable to not do the superhero movie or a big trilogy like a Hollywood sellout; that’s respectable. Further, Jake seemed to make some strides in 2015 by playing the main man in the inspiring boxing flick ‘Southpaw’, but even then, Billy Hope comes off as the anti-hero. You look at ‘Nightcrawler’, ‘Enemy’, ‘End of Watch’ and ‘Prisoners’ and they’re all great films from the last five years – but in none of them is he inherently likable or necessarily a “good guy”. One question to always ask when evaluating talent is how good is your good? And Jake Gyllenhaal’s good is really, really good. Maybe it’s just ‘Prince of Persia’ backlash after that Disneyfied abomination, or maybe he’s not the alpha dog we all believed he could be. Either way, it’d be prime to see Jake be the likable lead for once because you gotta believe there’s some Clooney in there somewhere.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, who made ‘Wild’ and ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’, ‘Demolition’ pulls no punches in delivering a stellar product. The emotion, the depth, and candor with which Vallee fearlessly explores a tragic death is top-notch. From hostile lashing out and disengagement with the world and his job, to finding silver linings in the aloof aftermath with new friends, to embracing the man who essentially killed his wife, Vallee drives Gyllenhaal to a magical place of merciful diffidence. ‘Demolition’ is a devastatingly beautiful picture and one you’d be a fool to miss out on.