The 400 Word Review: Demolition
By Sean Collier
April 12, 2016
In Demolition, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis, a slick young business type working for his father-in-law (Chris Cooper). After his wife is killed in a car accident, he spirals into some kind of unfeeling madness, developing an obsession with destruction and a fixation on a vending machine company’s customer service representative (played by Naomi Watts).
The film certainly stands on its own, but as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but think that the 2014 film Nightcrawler might’ve occurred somewhere between the second and third act of Demolition.
In Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal was Louis Bloom, a sociopathic small-time crook and con man who develops an interest in filming pulpy accident and crime footage for local TV news. There are some distinctions between Davis and Bloom, but they are products of one actor exploring the same question: What happens when you lose your ability to react emotionally to those around you?
Here, that detachment seems to have been produced by shock — not at the loss of Julia (Heather Lind), but at his own lack of grief. Davis is not sure if he’s simply numb to his emotions or if he has none; he questions if he ever truly loved his increasingly idealized wife and can’t feign interest in her father’s business (or his somewhat pedestrian attempts to honor and memorialize her).
The action moves on Davis’ repeated letters and eventual meetings with that customer service representative, who has a troubled, foul-mouthed teenage son and an unhappy relationship. The frame story — Davis inquires about a refund on some undelivered M&Ms and begins pouring his thoughts onto the page — is gimmicky and wears thin, but there’s something lovely, if bruised, about the relationships that follow.
Few films with an acting trio as exemplary as Gyllenhaal, Cooper and Watts will fail, and Demolition should certainly be considered a success. Director Jean-Marc Vallée takes a more distant, gentle approach to Demolition than he did with 2014’s underrated Wild or 2013’s overrated Dallas Buyers Club; here, he seems happy to let his actors carry the weight.
Ultimately, Demolition is one of those quiet dramas that will provoke thought while it unfolds and be forgotten soon after; it is not likely that it will be much remembered at the end of the year and certainly not beyond. While it lasts, though, it’s an intriguing excuse to consider the unexpected ways in which humans react to tragedy.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark