Demolition opens with a fast paced and slightly chaotic illustration of Davis’ wife’s death. The beginning of the movie is stimulating, pounding and perhaps too abruptly ended once the story settles down and the theme of grief fades into one more so of self-discovery. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis, a man complying of the superficiality of modern society and startled by the meaninglessness of his wife Julia’s death. His journey, as depicted impressively by Gyllenhaal, is a unique one but one that is relatable, moving and at times very funny.
Demolition provides an undefined critique of American bourgeois society and how obedience to demands of such a society can render one cold and half-hearted. As a character, Davis’s development is a bit sloppy at times as the tone changes randomly and confusingly, but experiencing it with him is nevertheless very enjoyable. A transferal from a serious business man who is self-admittedly fake, to a man with the playful mind of a child and an unpredictable recklessness makes for an interesting character; one that is very easy to root for.
The changes in tone and the muddled up themes are downfalls of Demolition but these features are actually well masked under an incredibly charismatic performance from Gyllenhaal. Compare this comedic, perplexed character of Davis to the slimy Louis Bloom of Nightcrawler, and then to the powerhouse figure of Billy Hope of Southpaw and its clear how talented the American actor really is. The chemistry he sparks with Judah Lewis who plays young Chris is brilliant and sequences of the two characters together are consistently laugh-out-loud funny.
Demolition is a light hearted take on a serious grievance process which is at times untidily presented. Davis’ father in law Phil is played well by Chris Cooper and Naomi Watts does well as vulnerable Karen. The structural narrative is smart and swift in contrast to the slow time span of the plot which makes the movie a bit scrambled up.
At the end of the day, Demolition is rather poignant. It portrays the wildness of grief as Davis loses himself in the childish world of Chris, but also the frailty of grief, as the leading man sits stark naked on his toilet, realising the raw bluntness of death. Davis strives to find out who he really is, and this search is reflected by Chris who is on a similar quest. Their relationship is honest and well presented.
The film is chaotic thematically, character-wise and structurally- but perhaps that is what director Vallee is trying to achieve. The shiny surface of success and modernity is fake and real life is chaotic and sometimes it takes a tragedy to make people realise that. Davis does realise this like a splash of cold water to the face, and the journey he is thrust on is entertaining and captivating to watch.