Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by Bryan Sipe
A man who lives in absolute privilege, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to terms with the sudden death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind). While other people normally mourn the death of a loved one, he ends up feeling nothing; in fact, he has never even shed a single tear even after his wife’s burial. Bothered with his absolute lack of empathy, he works on finding out how he truly feels about everything.
Davis finds some consolation through correspondence with Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), Champion Vending Machines’ (only) customer service representative. Back in the ER, he has tried purchasing a packet of Peanut M&M’s from the company’s vending machine, but it did not dispense properly. His letters to the company asking for his refund is nothing but a desperate attempt at opening up to someone, and he is not really expecting a response until Karen calls him unexpectedly at 2 a.m., asking about his condition.
Audiences would find it interesting to see a customer service representative who sincerely sounds like she cares, and is even moved by the letters Davis keeps on sending on the pretense of asking for a refund. If you start asking yourself if reps like her exist, remind yourself that you’re watching a work of fiction. Just saying.
Naomi Watts’ portrayal of a struggling, cannabis-smoking, single mother is on point, and her rock-and-roll loving, drum-playing, teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis), who at first is apprehensive of having a strange man in the house, finds himself warming up to him.
But the very point of Demolition is what Davis decided to do to start his journey into finding his feelings: destroying stuff. He starts lugging around tools wherever he goes, and systematically disassembles anything that catches his fancy or provokes negative feelings in him. He starts with his leaking refrigerator, and continues his demolition spree in the office, disassembling his computer and the cubicle doors in the men’s washroom (simply because they squeak).
Jake Gyllenhaal once again has shown great acting chops, what with his own depiction of a man at his wit’s end, with an obsession of destroying everything he sees.
As it turns out, his mania is influenced by something his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper) told him once: “If you want to fix something, you have to take it apart and put it back together.” He doesn’t exactly put the things he destroys back together (because most of the time, he can’t) but finds out that he gets a sense of release from all the numbness whenever he destroys things.
Viewers will find Chris Cooper’s acting a lot more tear-jerking than most of his roles, which usually have painfully restrained, stoic personas; and also almost always work for the government or anything connected to politics. His previous films Jarhead (which he co-starred with Jake Gyllenhaal) and American Beauty (which incidentally has the same elements as Demolition) are perfect examples.
Writer Bryan Sipe succeeded in drawing out a few laughs from an otherwise dreary film. Davis’ attempts at practicing how to cry in front of the mirror is quite humorous to see, and his total nonchalance at his ridiculous dancing in the subway and on the streets of Manhattan while listening to his updated playlist (dutifully uploaded to his mobile by Chris) might also crack you up a bit. It’s not going to get you in stitches, but the humor is made appropriate for the scene’s atmosphere, and quite commendable.
Demolition finishes a bit poorly for my taste, with sudden twists and turns, and an oddly surprising act of charity toward the end. The act does not fit Davis’ personality overall, and Sipe could’ve thought of something better.