Leading man Jake Gyllenhaal continues his performance hot streak (Prisoners, Enemy, Nightcrawler, Southpaw) in director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition; a stirring ride towards necessary self destruction.
Davis and his wife Julia are in a horrendous car accident; he survives unscathed and she dies from the trauma. Suddenly awakened to his numbness from the experience, Davis turns his attention to a vending machine company whose machine denied him a snack in the emergency room. In a strange catharsis he begins to share the pain of his loss in a series of letters to their anonymous complaints department until he makes an unlikely connection.
Early in the film, in a restrained piece of voice-over by Gyllenhaal’s Davis he discusses his father in law’s (Chris Cooper’s Phil) advice; (to paraphrase) sometimes you have to take things apart if you want to understand how they work together. It becomes the mantra of Vallée and writer Bryan Sipe. They light long fuses in Demolition as the story progresses and Davis is tearing apart his life. However, what makes Demolition unique is that Davis and Julia’s life was not a picture perfect relationship. Davis initial lack of emotional turmoil puts him on the strange path. He must steadily dismantle himself as he clears the way for some kind of understanding. It’s not apparent what the slate beneath the life he’s built will reveal. Davis’ matter of fact, peculiar approach to this existential crisis, is precisely what makes it so engaging.
Vallée (the director behind Cafe De Flores) is second only to Xavier Dolan for his ability to create a cinematic playlist to unexpectedly augment the emotions of the characters in any given scene. Any time that Davis (Gyllenhaal) and Chris (Judah Lewis) are on screen together there’s an energising pulse. Vallée creates a memory minefield for Davis as he’s coming to terms with his wife’s death; instead of languid flashbacks, unravelling their lives prior to the accident, Davis’ reflections are like sense memories (with particular focus on his lack of emotion) that serves to have you cheering for him to tear himself down if it means he will gain the ability to feel.
Jake Gyllenhaal presents Davis through his period of emotional awakening with a temperate delicacy. He must navigate terrain between numb restraint and masochistic abandon of feeling something (relishing treading on a nail at a demolition site, taking a shot to the chest with a bullet proof vest) to occupy himself physically, to literally and physically dismantle his life around him. Naomi Watts gets to sink her teeth into the quirky Karen, the key recipient of the letters and mother to Lewis’ dynamite teen-rocker and sexually blooming Chris. She’s not walking into the film as a one dimensional mechanism for solace. She’s intrigued by Davis. Karen begins to reappraise her own life alongside Davis’ journey.
You’re not going to be prepared for Demolition. It’s going to sneak up on you in ways that you’re not expecting; batten down your tear ducts hatches.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Bryan Sipe
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, C.J. Wilson, Polly Draper, Malachy Cleary, Debra Monk, Heather Lind
Jake Gyllenhaal … Davis
Naomi Watts … Karen
Chris Cooper … Phil
Judah Lewis … Chris
C.J. Wilson … Carl
Polly Draper … Margot
Malachy Cleary … Davis’ Dad
Debra Monk … Davis’ Mom
Heather Lind … Julia