Director Jean-Marc Vallée certainly has a preference for characters in extreme psychological situations (see his C.R.A.Z.Y., Café De Flore, Dallas Buyers Club and Wild), and with this filming of Bryan Sipe’s screenplay, he offers us yet another in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal, whose performance in Demolition is among his best, rawest and most frighteningly real.
Gyllenhaal’s New York investment banker Davis is introduced moments before a shocking car accident that claims the life of his barely-glimpsed wife Julia (Heather Lind). In the aftermath he starts exhibiting symptoms of a sort of ‘survivor syndrome’ that involves opening up emotionally via a series of uncomfortably funny complaints to a candy dispensing machine company’s customer rep and, basically, smashing things. Julia’s grieving Dad Phil (Chris Cooper) is also Davis’ boss, and he thinks that his son-in-law is trashing Julia’s memory, but it’s considerably more complicated than that. When the customer rep in question turns out to be the timid Karen (Naomi Watts), Davis meets her troubled teen son Chris (Judah Lewis), there begin several strange relationships. And a veritable feast of sledgehammering. Unimpeded by the need to cautiously follow the factual events of Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, Vallée (and Sipe) are free here to present us with a flawed fictional protagonist who might well have escaped death but, nevertheless, seems to have seriously broken something, and who spirals out of control even though he rather enjoys destroying everything he once believed in. There seems, perhaps, to be somewhat more at play in Demolition, too: this isn’t just a scarily vivid depiction of numb grief and pain, but a study of a man who discovers that not only does his entire existence up to this point require smashing, but that modern life itself is in dire need of a damn good thumping. Demolition is in cinemas now.