Despite an occasional appearance in glitzy Hollywood movies earlier in his career, Jake Gyllenhaal has put his talents to better use in recent years, with plenty of interesting roles that have provided us with gems the likes of End of Watch, Nightcrawler and Prisoners. At first glance, Demolition appears to be another one to add to the list; a character driven drama that puts Gyllenhaal at centre stage. Unfortunately, it’s a very difficult film to grasp, not knowing whether to be taken literally or with a sense of irony.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée has been able to bring out the best in his actors in the past as effectively seen with Reese Witherspoon in Wild and his role in the McCounaissance in Dallas Buyers Club, so it’s unsurprising that Gyllenhaal jumped at the chance to work with the man. His character Davis in Demolition is definitely an interesting one, but that may not be the way in which the director intended it to be. After his wife passes away in a car accident, Davis attempts to deal with his grief by demolishing appliances and later buildings, in an obvious metaphorical attempt to show he is breaking inside.
Unfortunately that’s the only obvious and explainable element of Davis’ character. Prior to his wife’s accident he is an emotionally aloof man, and nothing really changes afterwards. His apparent breakdown is difficult to understand, with his actions very unsympathetic to the dead. His other character traits also leave a lot to be desired, showing off a lot of symptoms of a reclusive sociopath that is confusing at the best of times. All of that would be fine if Vallée didn’t try a cheap cathartic pay off at the end that was completely undeserved. Gyllenhall may be a good actor, but he couldn’t save this script.
Both Naomi Watts and young Judah Lewis add some flair at times but their reason for inclusion is just as surreal and only work as tools to fuel Davis’ unusual behaviour. Because of that unusual descriptive Demolition remains enticing throughout its run time, but that’s because you’re struggling to understand it. It suffocates you with its ridiculousness and never lets up, with a pathetic attempt at closure providing none of it. It’s an end to the run of form of both Vallée and Gyllenhaal, but neither should be deterred. This won’t be a career defining moment for either.