Thursday 15 September 2016

Review: Not even Jake Gyllenhaal can paper over the cracks in Demolition

Falling down: Gyllenhaal has done far better films than Demolition

Demolition (2015)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis
Running time: 101mins

Jean-Marc Vallée's follow-up to Wild is a companion piece of sorts. The earlier film saw Reece Witherspoon desperately trying to find herself after a family tragedy sent her spinning off the rails. Demolition sees Jake Gyllenhaal desperately trying to find himself after a family tragedy sends him spinning... you get the picture.

Thing is, while Wild was gutsy and raw (helped enormously by a bravura turn from Witherspoon), Demolition is quirky and contrived. We understand that Gyllenhaal's dull investment banker, Davis, is left numb after the death of his wife in a car accident but a character wandering through the rest of the film in a daze of stunned silence and existential crisis is not exactly the stuff of box-office success or awards-season nods. 

Instead, we get Gyllenhaal – playing a grieving widower for the second time recently following the dreadful Southpaw – engaging in several different flavours of quirkiness. He totally dismantles various objects, including his entire house and contents (he needs to destroy his old life so he can build a new one, you see), dances like no one's watching in a crowded street to the tunes on an iPod and, most importantly to our plot, writes endless letters of complaint to the vending machine company whose faulty appliance swallowed his change at the hospital just after his wife passed away. It's through this latter contrivance he meets Naomi Watts's customer service rep who, as is the way with such things, is touched by his story and, despite already being in a relationship, offers him friendship and ultimately salvation. 

Despite my reservations, Demolition isn't bad – it just isn't nearly as good as either the under-appreciated Wild or Vallée's best-known film, Dallas Buyers Club. Gyllenhaal and Watts turn in perfectly solid displays but have both been better in vastly superior films, the former as recently as 2014's Nightcrawler, the latter in the likes of While We're Young and Eastern Promises (although her last truly great role was well over a decade ago in Mulholland Drive). In fact, the film is stolen from under the noses of its stars by young Judah Lewis, who plays Watts' gay 15-year-old son. The teen's struggle with, and ultimate acceptance of, his sexuality is one of the few elements that rings true in the entire movie. Rating: WW

Demolition is available now on VOD

Pure mourning: Gyllenhaal plays a grieving husband... again

WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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