Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind
Rated R for Language, Some Sexual References, Drug Use and Disturbing Behavior
I hate it when characters babble nonsense in an attempt to sound deep and interesting. I also hate it when the director shows off visually to convey some abstract concept when he doesn't have a clue how to do it. Despite the presence of the supremely talented Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper, "Demolition" is a real trial because it does both of those things.
Davis (Gyllenhaal) has just lost his wife Julia (Lind) in a car accident. Most people would be reduced to tears, rage against fate and the world, and finally accept reality and move on with their lives. Not Davis. Davis is numb to the world, and by his own admission has been for some time. However, this newfound freedom has opened his eyes to his pointless existence. Davis has what one might call an "existential crisis:" he has an affair with Karen (Watts), the customer service rep who was moved to tears when he told his story in a complaint letter to the company whose vending machine ate his money, skips out on his cushy job led by his (ex) father-in-law Phil (Cooper) in favor of destroying everything he can get his hands on.
Grief does strange things to people. We all know that. Some cry, some laugh, some don't know how to react. Many movies have shown this. "In the Bedroom" is one such example, but "Demolition" isn't about grief. It isn't even about the superficiality of "yuppie-dom." Hell, I don't even know what the film was about. The filmmakers certainly don't. The closest similarity is "American Beauty," although comparing the two is an insult to the film that took home the top award in 2000. That movie had wit, intelligence and insight. This movie is a void.
Director Jean-Marc Valle adopts the same low-key, minimalist tone that he used in his previous features, "Wild" and "Dallas Buyers Club." His intent, to show that Davis is no longer affected by anything or anyone around him, is obvious. Valle also plays with the timeline and adds abstract dream sequences that don't appear to be dream sequences. His intent is obvious there too: to show Davis' scrambled mental state. But there's a way to do this without threatening catatonia on the viewer, and Valle is without a clue as to how. This is a sterile motion picture about people who are as boring as the film. There's no reason to care about any of them except for that they're played by talented actors.
In addition to being boring, they're also unlikable. Davis acts like a self-centered boor to just about everyone, especially to his grieving in-laws. He's the "me-first" mentality at its second-worst (after Patrick Bateman). Karen stalks a grieving widower and has the nerve to have a fling with him while caring for a pre-teen who is in desperate need of counseling. In addition to having issues with his sexuality, he's prone to violence. At one point, he paints a target on the bathroom mirror and aims a gun at it. Karen doesn't know this, but Davis spots him, and what does he do? Takes him target-shooting in the woods and even invites the kid to shoot him while he's wearing a bulletproof vest. I don't know about you, but spending time with these people is an idea that gets worse with every passing minute.
I think I've made my point clear enough. "Demolition" was a bad idea right from the star, and they made mistakes all the way through. Even Gyllenhaalics should avoid this one.