[Screen It]


(2016) (Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts) (R)

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Drama: An investment banker, emotionally stunted by his wife's accidental death, decides to take his life apart, all while coming to know a customer service rep and her troubled teenage son.
Davis Mitchell (JAKE GYLLENHAAL) is a successful investment banker, married to Julia (HEATHER LIND), and an employee of the investment firm run by her father, Phil (CHRIS COOPER). Davis and Julia's marriage isn't the best, and he comes to realize that when both are struck by a vehicle and she dies from her injuries. Phil and his wife, Margot (POLLY DRAPER), are devastated by this loss, but Davis can't get himself to cry and instead tries to continue on with his life, all while coming to the realization that he never really knew Julia and probably didn't truly love her.

He reveals some of this through letters written to Karen Moreno (NAOMI WATTS), a customer service rep for a vending machine company run by her boyfriend boss, Carl (C.J. WILSON). She feels compassion for Davis and starts having additional contact with him, something that doesn't sit well with Carl. But when he must go out of town on business, Karen and Davis strike up a real friendship, including Davis getting to know her troubled and sexually confused teenage son, Chris (JUDAH LEWIS).

As that progresses, Davis comes to realize he never really paid attention to things in his life, and thus feels the need to deconstruct all of that, including the eventual slow demolition of his house, to figure out who he truly is.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I have no idea if he made it up or is borrowing or paraphrasing it from someone else, but Tony Robbins is known to use some variations of the quote, "If you want to take the island, then burn your boats." By that, he means you have to commit fully to something, with no potential of turning back, in order to succeed. In the appropriately titled drama "Demolition," Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes a somewhat similar tactic in believing that before rebuilding one's life, one must first tear it apart, examine what's there, and then start the construction from what's been learned.

While that might sound like a reaction and/or solution to a midlife crisis where those boats indeed do need to be burned in order to set forth on the proper path for the rest of one's life, it's actually a result of something a bit more profound. You see, his wife (Heather Lind) has just been killed in a car accident, and the lack of tears or any other sort of usual emotional release has led him to realize he didn't really know the woman, most likely didn't truly love her, and has been leading an emotionally stunted or even dead life.

That's evidenced by the fact that rather than mourning her loss, he decides to pen a letter of complaint to a vending machine company that didn't deliver to him his product in the hospital moments after his wife has died from a car accident induced trauma. Since we get to hear what he's written in the form of voice-over narration, we also hear him describing his life and relationship with his wife, not only to get that off his chest, but also -- on the part of the film -- to provide the viewer with some exposition.

And that includes him stating that everything in his life has become a metaphor, and if there's one thing this film -- directed by Jean-Marc Vallée ("Wild," "Dallas Buyers Club") from a script by Bryan Sipe ("The Choice") -- has in abundance is such rhetorical devices and symbolism. Despite such unabashed use, I didn't feel overwhelmed or irritated by any of that, although others, particularly prickly critics, could have caustic responses.

I do wish the film were put together better, not only in terms of plot and tone, but also character behavior. The theatrical trailer is a piece of beauty, creating the sense that one's in store for something truly profound, emotionally moving, uplifting and perhaps even life-changing, maybe in that sort of burn the boats fashion.

Alas, while watching that before seeing the film, I let myself forget that trailers are often so much better than the films from which they've been culled. That doesn't mean it's bad by any means. It's just that the trailer hits the right points all of the time, whereas the 100 or so minute film obviously can't keep up that pace and thus only delivers in bits and spurts.

As always, Gyllenhaal is terrific (he's one of my favorite actors working today), but the story and direction don't match his excellence. The same holds true for Naomi Watts as that customer service rep who goes above and beyond the call of duty in trying to help him. She's good, but the plot elements involving her character are sort of all over the place.

Judah Lewis is solid playing her troubled and sexually confused 15-year-old son, and if Hollywood is in need of a young Edward Furlong character (of the type that actor played in "Terminator 2"), this kid is your man. And Chris Cooper believably embodies a grieving father who becomes increasingly impatient with his son-in-law's progressively odd and -- to him -- disrespectful behavior.

Although it sort of rushes through things at the end, the film is at its most powerful as it starts to wrap things up. And at times, Vallée includes some visually cool and captivating shots, such as that of young kids being shown running in reverse, followed by that of the protagonist walking forward down a sidewalk while everyone around him is seen moving backward.

Overall, I liked the film and am giving it a recommendation. I just wish it had been as tight and engaging as its terrific trailer. "Demolition" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed April 6, 2016 / Posted April 8, 2016

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