“The man’s wife just died. Show some compassion you little shit!”

I’ve eaten my words previously when it has come to Jake Gyllenhaal; a cynic towards his work in a previous life – one before my time with Failed Critics – I have become quite the fan of the man that once bugged me just for having a surname I couldn’t spell. His acting prowess is such that, a film that would be average without him *cough* Southpaw *cough* is elevated to great just by having him in it. In a way, the latest effort from Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée is subject to the same equation.

{mediocrity} + [Jake][Gyllenhaal] = Brilliance

Okay, in this case, “mediocrity” is a little unfair. But my point still stands.

Having just lost his wife in a car accident, banker Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) doesn’t know how to deal with the loss. Seemingly unable to properly mourn, Davis instead directs his energy in writing what starts as a simple complaint letter to the owners of a vending machine in the hospital him and his wife were treated at. When the letter quickly turns from complaint to confession, Davis finally seems to find his catharsis not just in his constant letter writing, but in his new found honesty and need to deconstruct his life and everything around it.

His letter writing soon grabs the attention of the vending company’s customer services agent Karen (Naomi Watts). When she takes it upon herself to give him a call and make sure he’s alright, the pair form an unlikely connection; one where Davis gets to have a peek at a different life and maybe start to heal his wounds a little. With help from Karen and her 15 year old son Chris (relative newcomer Judah Lewis), Davis starts to take control of his life, by demolishing everything around it, with their help. Literally and figuratively.

There have been some fantastic films in the past that centre on people and how they cope with the death of someone close. Three Colours: Blue always jumps to the front of my mind when I think of really powerful films like that. On the other side of the coin, we’ve had some pretty ghastly films that touch on the subject too; I’m looking at you, Meet Joe Black!

Demolition plays the ground somewhere in between these films. It has moments where its power and its emotion are strong enough to drag a lump into the throat of even the most hardened bad ass, but at the same time it never takes itself too seriously. It’s a strange balance to keep, but this film manages to walk that line very well for the most part.

Demolition is all about Davis, his relationships and the effects they have on him as he tries to grieve. When his father-in-law (a magnificent Chris Cooper) advises that the widower starts to take apart his life, he takes the business owner far too literally and does so. To the detriment of fridges, coffee machines, toilet doors; you name it, Davis is taking it to bits and using it as a proxy for his real problems.

Karen and her son are the stars of Mitchell’s little show, and in a way, the film we have here. Their relationship with each other is as important as their relationship with the man that has fallen into their lives. Moody teen Chris, having already decided to hate Davis for no other reason than because he’s a moody teen, finds himself in a real battle of wits. Duelling with the investment banker who seems impervious to his mardy routine and just bashes him back with his own moodiness with often funny and heartwarming results. But Chris’ mum, a woman who is in as much need of help as Davis is, seems to relish her new found position as informal head shrinker to this damaged man. Karen finds as much relief in her relationship with Davis as he finds with her and together they make an unlikely couple that gravitate towards each other in their shared insanity.

Over for last couple of years, Gyllenhaal has chosen some pretty taxing roles, in a few different ways. From his Taxi Driver-esque performance in Nightcrawler to his insane transformation for previously mentioned boxing drama, Southpaw, with quite a few in between. So to take on what looks to be a pretty run-of-the-mill comedy-drama seemed a little strange for the man that appears to be pushing himself with every role. The thing is, whilst this isn’t the kind of role that’ll leave you stunned at the change the star has made, I do think it is the kind of role that is much deeper than a lot of people will give it credit for.

The truth is, it’s a genuine pleasure to watch Davis Mitchell unravel and take his world down with him. Vallée’s beautifully subtle direction allows for Bryan Sipe’s screenplay to do the majority of the heavy lifting. There’s a teary moment here and there, but Demolition isn’t about dragging all of your feelings out of you like some crappy sitcom finale, it’s all about watching the madness that is Davis’ life splat out across the screen as he tries to squeegee it up.

It’s a film made for the heartwarming chuckles and knowing smiles, not one that makes you feel bad for enjoying it. And while it might not be the best film you’ll see this year, it’ll certainly leave a bit of an impression by the time the credits roll.

One thought on “Demolition”

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