When his wife dies in a car accident, New York white collar type Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) falls into an erratic depression. At the hospital, after hearing of his wife’s ill fate, Davis uses a vending machine, and gets hung up when the machine disallows him his peanut M&Ms.
After writing the company several lengthy and personal letters, a customer service worker (Naomi Watts) introduces herself into his life.
Demolition begins with an intriguing hook. Smart dialogue and strong performances from Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper, who portrays the father of Gyllenhaal’s late wife, propel the film through its first act.
Gyllenhaal presents his character’s strange sense of grief with a strong sense of control: Listless gazes, wondering eyes in important conversations, weighted yet distant delivery.
However, the development between Gyllenhaal and Watts is lacking. Both characters’ voices are equally stilted, the lack of differentiation making for drab conversation or otherwise forced charm. Instead of being the emotional crux of the film, their dynamic takes away from the case study that the film is trying to paint.
What results is a film that meanders instead of probes. What begins as an interesting venture into the cracked grieving mind is a winding road past uprooted trees that, like Davis, you try to place symbolic meaning to when there simply is little point to it.
The worthwhile takeaways still remain in spite of the bumpy narrative. Two great performances from Gyllenhaal and Cooper, as well as writing that is strong in spite of its lack of direction, save this film from being a filmic disaster. When all is said and done, Demolition simply doesn’t provide—as hard as it tries—enough heart from the vein it taps. By the end, the film’s tone is as numb as Gyllenhaal’s character.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)