Jake Gyllenhaal is on an incredible streak. His creative decisions prevent him from grabbing the nearest superhero tentpole of Star Wars supporting character role (even though you know Gyllenhaal would crush those parts, if given the opportunity). Instead, the versatile actor pushes his limits – and asks his audience to challenge themselves – for not-so-easily digestible dramas like Prisoners, Nightcrawler and the new Demolition. Addressing the gathered masses prior to a recent film fest screening of the emotional drama, director Jean-Marc Valle expressed his desire to set a "rock ‘n’ roll" tone for the evening. He repeatedly talked about his film making "a lot of noise."
The film, itself, strikes a few too many off-key chords, though.
Jean-Marc Valle recruits Jake Gyllenhaal for this latest effort, but asks the versatile and down-for-anything actor to figure out an uneven and unlikable protagonist who never manages to gel as a human being. Gyllenaahl plays Davis Mitchell, a preppy and put-together investment banker who’s thrown a curveball when his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), dies in a car crash. (This takes place in the film’s opening, and is not a spoiler.) Instead of properly grieving – the first sign he isn’t a relatable character – Davis attempts to buy Peanut M&Ms from the hospital vending machine. When the candy refuses to fall – I kid you not -- Davis begins sending lengthy letters to the vending machine’s customer service department… using the missives as a device to spill out his stunted emotional problems.
For a while, I was able to excuse the letter-writing device (accompanied by cheesy narration) so that we could see where Demolitio was going. I even let it go – though I still rolled my eyes – when the lone customer service rep at the vending machine company, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), began calling Davis because she was so caught up in his letters. Never bought it for one second, but I allowed it. Of course, these two form a dysfunctional romantic relationship. That’s the type of movie Demolition is. And you might roll with it longer than I was able to. I just didn’t expect that the pairing of Gyllanhaal and Valle would produce something so off-kilter, uneven and tone deaf.
The characterization in Bryan Sipe’s screenplay was just so baffling. Demolition frequently felt like it was aiming for the exaggerated emotional targets David O. Russell has been hitting lately in movies like Silver Linings Playbook or The Fighter. With Gyllenhaal, Watts and Chris Cooper contributing, these are interesting characters asked to walk down multiple, improbable paths. But Sipe stacks too many rehabilitation clichés on top of one another, and the performances ultimately can not keep Demolition on track.
In years past, Jake Gyllenhaal has been the best part of outstanding movies that general audiences couldn’t be convinced to see. No matter how hard critics lobbied for the likes of Nightcrawler or the unflinching weight of Prisoners, they were a hard sell to mainstream crowds. (even though you REALLY need to see both, immediately!) Once again, Gyllenhaal is the best thing about Demolition, and he sinks his teeth into this free-wheeling, unpredictable and go-for-broke role. But this time, the movie around him can’t support his performance, or the wild-card lunacy Valle happens to be trading in.