Movie Review

Film Review: DEMOLITION (2016): Gyllenhaal Goes on a Path of Destruction

Jake Gyllenhaal Demolition

Demolition (2016) Film Review, a movie directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, and Heather Lind.

Destruction has become a mechanism for people who want to project their anger into something by damaging an object or place. Putting this onto film may work for an audience, especially if it brings out a great performance out of an actor. Demolition is one such film that takes this approach, making it symbolize a metaphor but at the same time isn’t. The film becomes an euphoric experience that is both entertaining and meaningful to the viewer.

In his wide range of roles that continues to astound us, Jake Gyllenhaal adds in another fine performance as Davis Mitchell, a man in finance who is going through the loss of his wife Julia (Heather Lind) after a car crash claims her life. The film’s opening sequence brings in a beautifully shot exchange between two people in love while we all know what is coming for them based on the background.

Audiences may be wondering if we are going to see Jake’s character Davis mourns for his wife like every other movie, but that is not the case here. The movie moves away from that and gives our main character a different reaction to his wife’s death. His reaction becomes strange to some, including his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper). Having a strong relationship with Phil, Julia’s death soon fractures their relationship, as well as uncovers some secrets of his seemingly perfect marriage. We learn that Davis’ rise by marriage into a wealthy family and his busy job as a Wall Street broker seems to make him the happiest man alive, but that isn’t the case. He is at his happiest when he gets his hands dirty with a sledgehammer in his hands destroying houses in the suburbs rather than crunching numbers in the city.

We see Davis acting somewhat stoic, maybe in a state of shock, but it soon becomes disturbing to those around him. Davis’ fixation with a defected vending machine at a hospital makes viewers think that something isn’t right with him, but it starts to work as a coping device that starts off as a letter to the company where he professes his feelings, not knowing who will read them. Little does he know that his letters start reaching out on a personal level to a customer service representative, played by the talented Naomi Watts. Davis and Watts’ character Karen form an unlikely friendship, which transpires after she starts answering back to Davis’ complaint letters. Davis also forges a bond with her crude teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis), who is questioning his sexuality.

There are a lot of things happening in the narrative, but it all fits well in the movie. The film’s plot comes together in an unexpected way as we see this man who starts to notice the small things in life and starts enjoying what’s around him, which is destroying the structure of houses. Coming off of the critically acclaimed Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal manages to put some strong humor into his character, something that is difficult for actors to pull off. Rather than taking apart the world around him, the film makes it lavishly clear that his new hunger for obliteration comes from a place of curiosity, a sudden interest in tearing things apart to see how it’s put together to understand them, including himself.

The movie manages to stay away from going all philosophical with its metaphors of life by being self-aware. The film’s plot moves forward by these complaint letters that explore what’s going through Davis’ mind at work and at home after the loss of his wife. It’s as if he is writing this long letter that covers the entire movie, and when it’s done, he moves on to another one. It’s a commentary that Davis voices over as he finds metaphors in his life and he repeats them for the audience so they are all listening. It becomes a fixed obsession, but it becomes hilarious for the audience to roll with it.

It’s the idea of tearing our life apart and rebuilding ourselves from scratch that is greatly interpreted in Demolition. We don’t see much rebuilding taking place as we see Davis continuously taking things apart. The film shows that it’s not the destruction that lets in something new, but that the destruction itself lights up one’s self. 

We don’t see any path moving forward with the character, but it’s clear what that path Davis is travelling to. We can compare Davis’ act of destroying things to a small child doing a similar action in order to articulate themselves and learn about the world around them. In the same way, Davis is learning through the wreckage he causes to help him understand the world he’s living in. The audience finds resolution at the end of the film, which is an ending that is more rewarding than we can imagine.

We get superb performances from the supporting cast including Watts, Chris Cooper, and the young Judah Lewis who adds his own wonderful act into the mix. This doesn’t shy away from Gyllenhaal’s work, which he does so well on his own. Gyllenhaal proves once again that he has a great screen presence, surprising us with every scene and emotion he portrays. Demolition appears to be Vallee’s most mature work and best to date since his last venture Wild, showing how a story can be put together so well with emotion and manner.

Rating: 8/10

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About the author

Mufsin Mahbub

Mufsin is a freelance writer from New York who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism at Long Island University. He has written for publications like HollywoodLife, Clubplanet, and Heavy. He is an avid lover for everything related to TV and film. He has gone to dozens of film screenings, press events, and loves to attend New York Comic Con every year. He gives an honest opinion on every TV show or film that people are going to be talking about.

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