Demolition held a lot of promise. From director Jean-Marc Vallee, whose last two films (Dallas Buyers Club and Wild) produced Oscar-nominated performances, the stakes were high. Combined with the talent of indie cult-master Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, Demolition was set to be a surefire hit. Unfortunately the result was a slow-paced melodrama that failed to hit the mark.
The entirety of the movie is muddled. Vallee attempts to use the unexpected relationship between Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) a recently widowed investment banker and Karen (Naomi Watts), a customer service rep with personal burdens of her own, to explore how one can rebuild a life. However the letters that bind the couple in the beginning lack the anything that may inspire a bond to form and their anaemic effect is quickly forgotten. Davis’ role in the family is intended to unite a wayward son (Judah Lewis) and a struggling mother; instead, he intermittently flits between the two characters, using each as his companion/confidant, seemingly for his own gain. Bold themes of loss, grief, sexuality, social expectations and responsibilities are danced with and quickly dropped. However, within this are beautifully shot surrealist flashbacks, demolition scenes choreographed to a great soundtrack, and moments of enjoyable humour that leave the audience feeling as confused about the film as the film itself.
The problem is Brian Sipe’s script is transparently desperate to be quirky, resulting in dialogue that tells viewers the characters are strange rather than showing them. Gyllenhaal carries his role with his undeniable skill, but the character remains nevertheless perplexing and unbelievable – much like the plot. The end attempts to save the film by forming one cohesive party line, deconstructing life to discover its meaning and answer that sought-after question: who are we? But though it’s an admirable conclusion, it’s incongruous in the context of the story as a whole.
Demolition is a frustrating piece: amongst the mess of themes and undeveloped plot, there are some beautiful, albeit brief, moments between the grieving father – a much-needed but underused Chris Cooper – and the widow, supported by Vallee’s raw and intimate direction. Perhaps if one lowers expectations, the film can exist as just that.
Demolition is released nationwide on 29th April 2016.
Watch the trailer for Demolition here: