Review: Demolition 

Demolition features Jake Gyllenhaal's best performance since Brokeback Mountain

click to enlarge demolition.jpg

There's a car wreck early in Demolition. The collision is presented in the popular “Jump, monkey!” fashion, where the camera is set within one car and the audience gets a glimpse of the other vehicle a split second before the crash. In a variation of the shot, we watch Wall Street stockbroker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he gets a terrifying look at the other vehicle just before it smashes into the driver's side of the car in which he is riding, killing the driver, his wife, Julia (Heather Lind).

Davis returns to work during the period most people would spend grieving. His coworkers are disturbed by his presence and his apparently unfeeling attitude. His boss/father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper) is stunned when he learns the widower is back in the office. He tries to counsel Davis, telling him, “if you want to fix something, you have to take it apart and put it back together.”

So Davis starts taking things apart. Physically.

Demolition is about a man trying to turn his emotions back on. Or maybe it's not. Maybe it's just a romanticized look at a wounded loner, the kind of guy who starts off sexy and gets even dreamier when he suffers. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I liked the movie a lot and I plan to see it again.

I'm not sure how Demolition will go over with general audiences. The film was screened at the last Toronto International Film Festival and there were complaints that director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild), working off Bryan Sipe's screenplay, gets overly arty, underly coherent, and that he too easily drifts from edgy to mawkish. Others gripe that he is dismissive of women, giving short shrift to the one prominent female character. I'll add my own cautionary note: The film is a drama with some comic moments – it isn't nearly as funny as the trailer would have you believe.

There's plenty of odd imagery, though. Some of it works, some of it seems clunky and obvious. For instance, early in the film we get a peek into the shower, where Davis is shaving his chest. Certainly many men shave some, if not all, of their body hair, but this image is included solely so that the director can later show the hair growing back on Davis' chest, indicating he is becoming more primal. By the way, how much of his body do you think pre-tragic Davis shaved? My guess is that he got rid of everything except for a small, impeccably groomed “welcome mat” just above his cock.

But I digress.

When Davis buys a candy bar at the hospital and it gets stuck in the machine, he writes the first in what will become a series of confessional letters to the customer service department of the vending machine company. Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), the customer service rep, likes what she reads and contacts him at 2 in the morning, because why the hell not? Turns out Karen is a pot-smoking mother to a young teenager, Chris (Judah Lewis), who is coming to terms with his his sexuality.

Davis and Karen build just enough of a relationship for the screenplay to keep her out of the way so that Davis and the kid can have weird, dangerous, cool adventures, including a bit of insanity with a bulletproof vest and a gun, plus the inevitable demolition of Davis' modernist home. “Everything's a metaphor,” says Davis. “Maybe not,” says me.

I worked on a demolition crew at the old St. Francis Hospital in Beech Grove when I was in my twenties. What a great job! Using a sledge hammer and a jackhammer are pleasures you all should be lucky enough to share. Funny thing, in all the time I spent on that job, including the day I helped demolish the room in which I was delivered (really!), we never compared what we were doing to any other aspect of life. We just worked and sweated and enjoyed being physical.

Demolition features Jake Gyllenhaal's best performance since Brokeback Mountain and fine works from Chris Cooper, Naomi Watts and young Judah Lewis as well. The movie is pretentious and troubled. I really like it. You may not. Regardless, if you're able, get a sledgehammer and bust down something that needs busting. You'll feel good.

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