Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"Gyllenhaal puts in such a brilliant performance that it’s hard not to get swept away."

Demolition may have one of the most unsympathetic main characters of a film that’s aiming for an emotional journey to date. Bryan Sipe’s script sees Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), an investment banker whose defining characteristic is not giving a shit to the point of anhedonia, go through some kind of bizarre zen like crisis after his wife dies in a car crash that leaves him with nary a scratch. Car crash as catalyst isn’t a new concept, and it probably takes second place to The big C as as cinema’s greatest motivator for unseemly characters, but it’s rare to see it handled by such a bizarrely likeable yet barely redeemable character.

That’s probably testament to Gyllenhaal's chops, as he’s proven over the years with Zodiac, Source Code, Enemy, Prisoners and, Nightcrawler that he’s a versatile, virtuoso performer who exudes a fatal charisma. Davis is no different, despite his flippancy in the face of his wife’s death - he spends time during her wake writing an uncomfortably detailed letter to the vending firm whose machine robbed him of a few dollars in the hospital - he is… likeable. It’s due to the fact that he taps into something universal, the fact that love does wax and wane, and when it wanes a tectonic life shift can leave us feeling unable to comprehend exactly what has just happened.

Copy picture

This knowledge makes Davis' disagreements with father-in-law Phil (Chris Coops) easier to understand. They're at cross-purposes because he’s not convinced he or anyone really knew the woman that died, or has her bests interests at heart post-mortem. Whilst Phil mourns and sets up a scholarship fund in her name, Davis begins taking apart his entire life to figure out why he stopped feeling for the woman he married. The conclusion to this line of thought is fairly trite, but makes for some amusing hijinks as he literally deconstructs objects with a set of tools he fills his financier's briefcase with, and eventually takes a shine to roughhousing with demolition work.

The true core of the film revolves around his relationship with the customer service director of the vending machine firm. As his letters go into more detail about the cogs of his life not meshing correctly, Karen (Naomi Watts) gets in touch out of hours to lend an ear. The way these two characters mesh and clash forms the basis of the fairly pedestrian second act, but it’s balanced by the third act and the relationship between Davis and Karen’s son, Jim Morrison-aping Chris (Judah Lewis). It starts to feel a little like About A Boy meets Sid And Nancy as the two bond over the juvenile excess of rock music and physical acts of destruction, but there’s something cheerily tender about the rapport that they form. It also leads to one the goofiest dancing in the street sequences since Spider-man 3, and kicks the film into warmer waters, which is appreciated thanks to the cold, nihilistic tone of the first half.

The story beats don’t keep up with the original promise, and there are some fairly cliché final moments, including a dramatic event and overall denouement that feel pretty emotionally manipulative. Still, Gyllenhaal puts in such a brilliant performance that it’s hard not to get swept away. His Davis toes the line between abhorrent and affable wonderfully, and even if the character growth is a little wonky, it’s still an enjoyable arc to take part in.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2016
Share this with others on...
Demolition packshot
A man unravelling after the death of his wife forms an unexpected bond with a customer service representative.
Amazon link

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writer: Bryan Sipe

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind

Year: 2015

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2016

Search database: