‘Demolition’ is a Waste of Potential

by Simon Williams on April 13, 2016

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Down]

Okay I get it. After the atomic blast that was Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s rather difficult to get into the mindset of talking about any other current release films. Every day more thinkpieces and reviews and counter-points claiming quality (the poor buggars) flood out, filling our minds and social media feeds with so much media rooted about the film it’s going to be difficult to move on to other films. I know that I have had trouble focusing on any movie save Zack Snyder’s silly and overblown form of suppuku. That being said, we must be able to move on, and every week new films emerge to divert our attention.

Demolition, unfortunately, might not exactly be up to the task.

Directed by Jean-Marc Valée (the helmer of previous actor-driven Oscarbait such as Dallas Buyers Club), Demolition stars Jake Gyllenhaal fading in and out of his Southpaw weight as Davis Mitchell, an investment banker who opens the film in a horrifying car crash that takes the life of his wife. The ensuing film involves him writing letters to the snack machine company that he feels slighted him, befriending a pre-teen coming into his sexuality, beginning a non-sexual affair with a married woman (played by the almost always underused Naomi Watts), as well as systematically finding more and more outlets to be physically destructive.

The film is a mess, with lax pacing that gives no sense of time or import. This means it passes at a snail’s pace, always adding new plot points and characters to the point it begins to feel ridiculous. Imagery that should pack major symbolic weight will only appear once before its callback at the end, completely robbing such beats of any emotional weight (a subplot involving an old carousel is particularly unfortunate in this regard).

The performances are quite good, particularly Gyllenhaal’s as well as the grizzled, pained turn by Chris Cooper as the father of the deceased wife. Valée is actually quite a fine director when he just lets his actors play in space. Dallas Buyers Club was campy and awkward when trying to play itself as a heist film, but when the camera just trailed on McConaghey, it was genuinely affecting. Wild is easily still the director’s best work on sheer virtue of being almost nothing but Reese Witherspoon’s fantastic performance and the environment around her. Here, too, when the film stops trying to be quirky or complex and just rests on Gyllenhaal’s performance, it’s kind of great.

I’m hesitant to give this film a negative rating because there is potential here, and moments that work. It’s unfocused, trying too hard and doing too much, but there’s one genuinely emotional and intelligent move the film makes.

The film derives its title from Gyllenhaal’s catharsis of choice, being the demolition of his belongings and objects in general. It’s an indie film trope, in time of emotional distress the protagonist taking solace in destruction, but in most films it’s portrayed as genuine escape. It’s merely brushing off the trappings of the vain and empty life they once had and it’s freeing. Here it’s shown for what it is: destructive. It’s cathartic because it’s distracting. Violence is not a way of moving on, it’s just a place-holder. You don’t just leave the situation, you can’t move on from some things. Putting it behind you only puts you so far, and soon enough you’re just causing yourself even more physical and mental harm.

Dude. I’ve been there.

So no, Demoltion isn’t really a good film, but it shines at its most core element. I just wish they threw out all the subplots and plot-twists and made it what it seems to succeed so well at: small, intimate, scary moments where the film just lets Gyllenhaal shine.

Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a media critic and filmmaker originally from Columbus Ohio. He makes short films about sad people who don’t speak their minds because he himself is a sad person who does not have that issue.

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