-- Rated: R
Four out of five stars
Jake Gyllenhaal should be your favorite actor.
He’s the guy every acting coach in the world should tell their students to study. "Southpaw," "End of Watch," "Nightcrawler" and "Prisoners" were all Oscar-worthy performances, with the latter two serving as clinics in nuance. Perhaps the best thing about those four movies is they were risky and daring in their own way.
With "Demolition," Gyllenhaal picks a role that doesn’t require him to engage as emotionally as those others did. Instead, he teams up with Wild and Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée for a part that requires emotional detachment.
Gyllenhaal plays Davis, a successful banker married to Julia (Heather Lind). Minutes after we meet Julia, she and Davis are in a car accident that kills her.
Standing in the hospital waiting area in his blood-stained shirt, Davis dispassionately decides to purchase something from the vending machine.
The snack gets stuck, prompting Davis to write a complaint letter to the vending machine’s customer service department. Several letters, in fact, that reveal his mental and emotional state: connecting the moment the snack got stuck in the machine to his wife’s death, his relationship with her, and his subsequent detachment from the life they knew together.
Now Davis is in the process of deconstructing his life. Not just his life, but everything he sees: a light fixture in his in-laws’ house, a bathroom stall at work, a clock, and then the refrigerator in his kitchen Julia had been asking him to fix.
Then Davis gets a call from the customer service rep at the vending machine company, at 2:00 a.m. Karen (Naomi Watts) is taken with Davis’ prose but she feels a much deeper connection to him, and Davis to her.
It’s complicated, because life always is. Karen also has a 14-year-old son, Chris (Judah Lewis), who has his own set of troubles.
"Demolition"’s weakness is the unrealistic relationship Davis develops with Karen and her son. It’s all a little too convenient and doesn’t feel 100-percent authentic.
At the same time, the performances are lovely, including a gut-wrenching moment from Chris Cooper, who plays Davis’ father-in-law, and Lewis, an actor who draws comparisons to a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and for very good reason.
While not a five-star affair, with Demolition, Gyllenhaal again proves he’s one of our finest film actors, in a story rife with meaning for anyone who’s ever suffered loss and reevaluated everything.