Film review: Jake Gyllenhaal comes apart at the seams in Demolition

To buy into Gyllenhaal's character, you’d have to believe he had some sort of humanity in the first place. Let’s just say that is not entirely clear.

Jake Gyllenhaal in full Demolition mode. Fox Searchlight via AP
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Associated Press


Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper

Three stars

What if a man whose wife died experienced none of the stages of grief? What if he felt nothing? What if he, instead, wrote letters to a vending-machine company and dismantled every object in sight?

Welcome to director Jean-Marc Vallée's ambitious, flawed and whimsically sinister Demolition. A person in denial is one thing – to buy into the character of Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal), you'd have to believe he had some sort of humanity in the first place. Let's just say that is not entirely clear.

Mitchell is like the Patrick Bateman (of American Psycho fame) of widowers. He is wealthy, cold, unfeeling and vaguely sociopathic. Instead of bodies, though, it is objects he dissects. At first, it is captivating as you drift with Mitchell after his wife dies. He can't even muster any emotion as her grieving father (Chris Cooper) breaks down.

At the wake, he retreats to his study to write a complaint letter to the vending-machine company. In it, he shares his frustrations: how he only got his job because of his father-in-law, about his daily routine in his perfect house – and how he never really loved his wife.

One letter becomes regular correspondence. He also decides to start taking things apart – a fridge, a bathroom stall, a bathroom light fixture and more. Meanwhile, his life starts to come apart. Subtlety is not what this movie is going for.

It’s quirky and menacing, and Vallée and Gyllenhaal find dark humour in Mitchell’s odd behaviour.

Then the eccentric characters arrive – Karen (Naomi Watts), a customer-service worker at the vending-machine company who is moved by Mitchell’s heartfelt letters, and her angst-ridden son Chris (Judah Lewis).

Suddenly Mitchell is finding solace in this single mom with a heart of gold and a young boy with glam-rock predilections.

The movie is much most interesting when Davis appears to be an unredeemable sociopath. Perhaps Demolition should have stuck with its original premise to the bitter end – or made Mitchell more human at the start. As it stands, Demolition doesn't quite hold together – but it's far from a wreck.