Demolition takes the predictable premise of a man deconstructing his unsatisfying life after a tragedy and starts it off promisingly with a compelling performance from the increasingly versatile Jake Gyllenhaal. Unfortunately, the whole thing quickly flames out in a messy, unclear deconstruction of modern life. Wild director Jean-Marc Vallée's knack for offbeat character storytelling and naturalistic filming can't save the film's building narrative inconsistencies and strange forays into quirk and melodrama.
Gyllenhaal plays a successful Manhattan investment banker, Davis Mitchell, who loses his wife in a car accident in the film's opening scene. Upon realizing he never really loved her and how unhappy he is/was, Davis goes on a wild, self-destructive turn trying to quell his lack of grief or sadness at the expense of those around him. He bizarrely goes on a jag writing brutally honest complaint letters to a vending machine company in order to flesh out his mixed feelings and emotions—this is also mostly used as a narrative device, scripted by Bryan Sipe, to inform the viewer of Davis' unstable mental state.
It's an amusing enough film but severely underutilizes its talented cast. Naomi Watts does fine but inconsistent work as a customer service rep who befriends Davis just as he adopts her family as his own in order to cope. She's given a vague backstory, a few pothead antics, and nothing boyfriend that only makes the film's all over the place plot even more out there. Added to the mix is a troubled but slightly precocious teen sidekick (Judah Lewis playing Watts' son) as a sort of oil to Davis. Chris Cooper as Davis' father-in-law and boss is suitably emotional but the film doesn't give him more than a one-note role as the frustrated grieving father.
Demolition never adds up or properly decides exactly what kind of film it wants to be. Its quirk and offbeat story amidst some dark and personal subject matter never warrants the simultaneously complex and joyous performance from Gyllenhaal. His stretched, impressive acting is almost worth the time for how he grabs your attention, but the latter half's descent into murky, messy character relationships is unearned and bizarrely negates any of the worthwhile material.
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