Jake Gyllenhaal earned applause last night in Toronto for his turn as a troubled investment banker who loses his moorings after the death of his wife in a car crash. He returns to work for his hard-charging father-in-law (Chris Cooper), but his well-ordered world is falling apart. Jean-Marc Vallée wanted to share this strange drama, based on an original screenplay by Bryan Sipe, with the Toronto crowd inside the Princess of Wales Theatre on opening night of TIFF, where audiences are friendly, media less so.
The central conceit is that Davis Mitchell claws his way back to emotional health by writing a string of candid letters about himself to a vending machine company, ostensibly complaining about a broken unit in intensive care. A customer service rep (Naomi Watts), sympathetically responds to him; they develop a friendship, and he gets to know her troubled, flamboyant son (breakout Judah Lewis). And Mitchell starts getting off on taking objects apart and demolishing things. Chaos and anarchy take over. Sipe must have written an impressive script that got lost in translation. Vallée, coming off the intense naturalism of “Dallas Buyer’s Club” and “Wild,” fails to create a cohesive world that makes any sense.
While the Oscar season once seemed to promise three Jake Gyllenhaal performances, “Southpaw” is a distant summer memory and “Everest” offers him an athletic but small supporting role. While he’s front and center again in “Demolition,” giving a layered and compelling performance, Fox Searchlight has wisely pushed the film out of the crowded 2015 awards season and will open it next year, on April 8.
Here’s what critics are saying:
When Gyllenhaal (who again turns in another wonderful and nuanced performance, continuing the pattern he set with other TIFF picks like “Nightcrawler” and “Enemy”) rips things down to the studs, there’s glory in the action, freshness and revitalization, but once Vallee tasks him with building everything back up, “Demolition” collapses under its own ambitious weight.
In order to make sense of his life, a white-collar widower decides he has to tear it all down in “Demolition,” dismantling appliances, smashing furniture and even going so far as to bulldoze his own house in search of a catharsis that never comes. It all could have gone horribly awry, were it not for the top-of-their-game contributions of leading man Jake Gyllenhaal (continuing in recent-streak crazy mode) and director Jean-Marc Vallee (back in early-career “C.R.A.Z.Y.” mode), whose unexpected creative choices across the line salvage a sledgehammer-obvious screenplay that will stop at nothing to provoke a reaction.
The Hollywood Reporter:
As farfetched as that sounds, Gyllenhaal makes it all feel compellingly real, turning Davis into a man who does some wild and questionable things throughout the movie, but also makes us laugh at the same time: One memorable sequence has him walking onto a construction site and offering to sledgehammer a house free of charge, while another has him breaking out into spontaneous dance on the streets of Manhattan.
Jean-Marc Vallée could be quite easily categorised as an “actor’s director”. His last two films notched up two acting Oscars and a further two acting nominations between them (Dallas Buyers Club and Wild) so it’s therefore easy to understand why talent would be drawn to his next project. But Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts will surely be left feeling a little flattened by Demolition, a frustratingly aimless soul-search that veers uncomfortably between quirk and melancholy.