Demolition (2016)

demolition-review

There’s something really icky about movies that try to be smarter than they actually are. You know one when you see one. They have pretentiously quirky plots and convince themselves into believing they’re quirky and zany but end up feeling more mawkish and cutesy than anything else.

Demolition is one of those movies. Maybe not entirely, but it definitely has some beats that border on that irksomely quirky territory.

He plays Davis, a handsome, hugely successful investment banker who has the world on a string until the day his wife dies in a car crash. Everyone expects Davis to be grief-stricken but he feels nothing. In the middle of all the chaos he writes a firm letter of complaint to a vending machine company after their machine fails to cough up a packet of M&Ms. He has given them his money and received nothing in return.

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The correspondence escalates, bringing him to the attention of customer services rep Karen (Naomi Watts). The two form an unlikely connection that grows to include Karen’s son Chris (Judah Lewis) Possible salvation arrives when Davis takes to heart father-in-law Phil’s (Chris Cooper) advice the only way to rebuild is by demolishing the life he once knew and Davis takes this literally.

I think there’s a great deal to like about Demolition, most of which is exemplified in Jake Gyllenhaal’s outstanding central performance. He really has become one of the greatest working actors in Hollywood and he continues his performance hot streak (Prisoners, Enemy, Nightcrawler, Southpaw) in this film with a really nice and charming performance that definitely feels more authentic than it’s supposed to.

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It’s one of those rare cases where the actor actually elevates the material and the film with his performance. The performances are actually all really good. Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and Judah Lewis all provide Gyllenhaal with good support, but the biggest problem with this film is that it just feel feels too uneven.

I think it has moments of greatness that are unfortunately often overshadowed by moments that feel forced and a misjudgment of what they’re trying to be. And for that, Bryan Snipe’s screenplay comes into question which is just full of contrivances and triteness. Thinking it’s being different and smart, when in reality, it isn’t. Almost all it’s opportunities of philosophical pondering feel wasted and I had trouble believing in almost all of the characters in the movie, except for he ones played by Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper and I guess that is why Gyllenhaal’s performance is so good, because his character actually has some sense of authenticity to him.

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I do think the film gets better towards the latter half, but for a great deal of time I couldn’t help being turned off by the film’s constant attempts and trying to be melancholic in that overtly quirky way, and failing to do so.

There’s actually a moment in the movie when Gyllenhaal’s character says “Everything has become a metaphor” and it just made me go..Okay, you just said that out loud and I do know that you wanting to take a sledgehammer to the home you lived in is metaphorical, you didn’t need to actually say it out loud.

However, that said, I do feel Demolition is worth seeking out because for all it’s contrivances and flaws, there’s actually some pretty good stuff in there, including a Jake Gyllenhaal performance that demands to be seen.

6.4/10

-Khalid

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16 responses to “Demolition (2016)

  1. I loved Demolition when I saw it at TIFF in September. I’ll admit that I didn’t particularly like the Naomi Watts character but Jake Gyllenhaal’ outstanding performance and a very convincing ending won me over.

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    • I agree, it definitely got better by the end and I love Gyllenhaal’s performance the more I think about it, but the first two acts of this movie are really flawed which is why I couldn’t like it, even though I really wanted to.

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  2. good review, Khalid! All fair points, though the film as a whole sat much better with me. I found that line you pointed out- “everything is a metaphor”- to be actually one of my favourite parts! the film was so loaded with obvious aesthetic symbolism that it could have come across as really pretentious if it tried to be all cool about it, but instead it just states with refreshing openness, “yeah, it’s a metaphor.” I found that that line alone really grounded all the imagery and symbolism in the character’s journey instead of just having it be the filmmaker’s artsy-fartsy ambitions. But that was just my take! 😛

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  3. I was initially excited to see this as I like Gyllenhaal and Watts, but as reviews started pouring in, I decided to wait to rent it later. Sounds like a flawed movie but worth a watch for the performances.

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    • Yeah, Gyllenhaal is really good in this movie, Chris Cooper is also pretty good even though he isn’t in it nearly enough. But I’d definitely recommend checking it out for the performances.

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  4. I guess this is one if those times where one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. I loved this movie. I think all those points you found icky resonated with me. I loved the heart and spirit in the film.

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  5. I agree with your review. I think this would’ve worked better as a short film. I felt like the longer it went on, the more it drowned.

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  6. It’s a waste of such great talent (Gyllenhaal) when a film fails to live up to his exacting standards. Currently, the guy is Hollywood’s best male actor for my money and he generally picks some good roles. This one, unfortunately, hasn’t turned out that way.

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    • Gyllenhaal is definitely among the best imo as well and even though the movie fails to do much, I think watching Gyllenhaal’s performance is still somewhat of a redeeming quality, but yeah, it is definitely a disappointment

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