Jake Gyllenhaal Breaks Down in ‘Demolition’

We all process grief in our own way: that’s the crux of Demolition, in which Jake Gyllenhaal loses his wife and proceeds to fall apart. I should have been on the verge of tears through all of this, but somehow, I just didn’t care.

Bryan Sipe’s screenplay establishes Gyllenhaal as a man who seems to have everything: a beautiful spouse, a magnificent home, and a cushy job on Wall Street working for his father-in-law (Chris Cooper). But in the wake of that fatal accident he realizes that none of it has meaning. When Cooper tells him that in order to fix something, you have to take it apart and put it back together, his son-in-law takes the aphorism literally and begins to demolish everything around him, hoping that it will lead to some sort of epiphany.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts

Jake Gyllenhaal-Naomi Watts-680
Photo by Anne Marie Fox – Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

He also initiates an obsessive correspondence with the customer relations representative of a vending machine company that cheated him out of a candy bar while he was in the hospital with his wife. Naomi Watts plays the woman on the receiving end of those letters whose curiosity impels her to respond to Gyllenhaal and get to know him. Her unruly teenage son (Judah Lewis) becomes the widower’s unlikely ally.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives another fine performance here, but because it’s so difficult to understand what’s going on inside him, I found it almost impossible to relate to his character. Without that connection, Demolition keeps us at arm’s length.

I have such regard for director Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) that I refuse to place the blame for this misfire on his shoulders. He delivers everything the script can offer, along with his talented leading actors. I carried nothing away from this movie, and I don’t think it’s worth my time to take it apart.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024