Some of the best things in life can happen by complete surprise – finding love, winning the lottery and of course, Leicester City being crowned champions of the Premier League (I still can’t believe it!). Well, that’s what a couple of friends and I hoped for when we decided to go to the cinema in the spur of the moment, with the intention of seeing a film completely at random. We didn’t know the plot, the genre or even a single actor but we thought what the hell! How bad could it be? As you can probably guess by now, the answer as always is very bad, very bad indeed. Agonising even… Demolition was painfully self-aware, horrendously disjointed and deeply unfulfilling, my friends and I garnered more enjoyment from heckling the film than actually watching it. Note to self: always check out IMDB before watching a film. Sure it will be less spontaneous in the moment, but at least in the long run it will save me from the torture of watching Demolition…
Even in the presence of his wife, privileged investment banker Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is still disconnected from reality, his thoughts allowed to drift aimlessly into the universe. Despite tragedy striking and losing his wife to a car accident, Davis remains the same – lost to the ether. Whilst for others the death of a loved one might ignite a spectrum of emotion, from combusting rage to crying tirelessly, in Davis nothing changes, forever he is emotionless and aloof – an empty shell of a man. Meanwhile, Davis is constantly pressured by his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), who is determined to leave charitable legacy for his daughter and wants Davis to be a part of it.
The only time even a flicker of non-passiveness appears in Davis, is when he’s alone in hospital and he attempts to get a snack from a vending machine. However, the vending machine fails to deliver the chocolate payload (typical technology, it never works when you need it most!), prompting Davis to return home and write out his frustration in a letter addressed to the vending company – has Davis never heard of email?
Four life-story letters later and Davis is brought to the attention of a service rep named Karen (Naomi Watts), however, her intentions for calling him aren’t strictly professional, she is drawn to him, there is a melancholy about him that soothes her. Soon an unlikely connection blossoms between the two of them, never sexual, instead it’s two lost souls trying to weather the storm of life together. Karen has her own personal demons, she is locked in a deeply unfulfilling relationship with her boss and her relationship with her son is disjointed. Whilst it might have started frosty, Davis also develops a kinship with Karen’s son, Judah Lewis (Chris Moreno), a school troublemaker trying desperately to find himself and express himself in feminine clothing. “Repairing the human heart is like repairing an automobile, you have to take everything apart to fix it”. Through the friendships nurtured with Karen and Judah, Davis is finally able to express the loss of his wife through the demolition of his old life, ready to rebuild the new.
Before I delve into everything that is wrong with the film, it’s only respectful that I highlight the positives first – there are none, well that was easy. With Dallas Buyers Club and Wild on his recent film CV, I have to admit that I expected a lot more from Jean-Marc Vallée. But whilst Dallas Buyers Club was entertaining, provocative and uplifting, Demolition on the other hand was as hollow as its main character. Vallée, I’m very disappointed.
Like oddly shaped jigsaw pieces, the characters never quite fitted together despite all the bashing and frustrated cries from Vallée. Whilst it’s obvious the relationship between Karen and Davis was intended to be endearing and off-beat, in practice it came across as juvenile and forced. Firstly, there simply wasn’t enough screen time shared between the two and secondly, if the relationship was more overtly romantic, it would have felt more purposeful and compelling. I also struggled to understand the supposed dysfunction in Karen’s life; her boyfriend seemed logical and attentive, while the only reason she didn’t get on with her son was because she wasn’t giving him the attention he needed. All the problems in Karen’s life seemed self-inflicted.
I really hate to do this to you Jake Gyllenhaal especially after the great times I had with Zodiac, Donnie Darko and Nightcrawler, but even you can’t avoid my wrath… Davis was dull and self-righteous, not one single moment did he ignite a single spark of sympathy in me, he remained far too insular for far too long. Whilst it felt like Gyllenhaal himself was still MAD at the film gods for not giving him the Oscar for Nightcrawler, so in retaliation he decided to get back at them with a horrendous performance in Demolition, just to spite them – I’m not sure about the Academy, but I certainly felt very spited.
Even more annoyingly than the rest, towards the end of the film certain twists were revealed far too late in and didn’t have time to reach fruition or actually have any effect on the plot – such as Davis meeting his wife’s accidental killer which should have been used as an opportunity to reinvigorate the film, but wasn’t. Forget his house, I wish Davis brought a sledge hammer to Demolition instead, because I’ll struggle to find a worse film released this year.
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Written by OnTrax Reviewer Silva Chege.