Demolition Review (2016): Jake Gyllenhaal Teaches Us There’s No Right Way to Grieve

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Is there anyone more versatile than Jake Gyllenhaal? You’d be hard-pressed to find someone with such a wide-ranging filmography.

Gyllenhaal began his career getting by on charm in movies like October Sky or the silly-stupid Bubble Boy. In 2002, we saw a glimpse of what kind of actor he could be when he starred opposite Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl. In 2005, everyone was ready to take notice with Brokeback Mountain. He earned his first – and so far, only – Oscar nomination for his role.

But over the last couple of years, something changed. Gyllenhaal wasn’t so much worried about charming audiences but disappearing into dark and dangerous roles. In the matter of a year he played a gaunt crime journalist in Nightcrawler and bulked up for his boxing role in Southpaw. (Shame on you, Academy, for not taking notice and nominating him for his pitch-perfect performance in Nightcrawler.)

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His latest film, Demolition, the actor takes on a different kind of role. Gyllenhaal stars as Davis Mitchell, who loses his wife, Julia (Heather Lind) in a terrible car accident. They were arguing at the time of impact. Davis seems alarmingly unmoved by the tragic death. He isn’t sobbing or really showing much emotion at all. His main focus is contacting the vending company who supplies machines for the hospital, where he paid for a bag of peanut M&Ms, which got stuck before they ever came out of the machine.

People begin to talk. Why doesn’t Davis seem sad? Julia’s father (Chris Cooper), who Davis works for, begins to grow increasingly irritated and annoyed when the emotionless Davis shows up to work shortly after the death. He’s unshaven, sloppily dressed and in a seemingly normal mood.

But those M&Ms. Davis becomes fixated on writing letters to the vending company, hoping for a reply to his claim. Late one evening – more like in the middle of the night – a representative contacts Davis. Karen (Naomi Watts) takes notice of Davis’s many attempts to resolve the issue. Karen seems to be coasting through life as much as Davis and a friendship forms. Davis starts spending more time with with Karen and her son, Chris (Judah Lewis).

There’s no denying Davis and Karen’s friendship is built on a contrivance in Bryan Sipe’s screenplay. What the screenplay does successfully is show us that there is no correct way to grieve. There is so much pressure surrounding Davis based off how he has reacted to his wife’s death but maybe he is coping the only way he knows how to. He begins taking apart their entire house, from the refrigerator to the walls and anything in between.

Demolition is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose previous films include Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. Demolition doesn’t come with the awards season prestige that his previous films had and will likely be another worthy performance by Gyllenhaal that will go overlooked. As an examination on the varied ways one deals with a crisis, Demolition is worth a look.

Demolition rates 8 out of 10

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