jean-marc vallee

Review: Jake Gyllenhaal Breaks It Down in “Demolition”

The director of "Wild" and "Dallas Buyers Club" serves up another story of a soul in existential crisis.

In “Demolition,” Jake Gyllenhaal plays an investment banker who’s so messed up after his wife’s sudden death that he moves to Portland, starts buying up beautiful old homes, and then tears them down in order to replace them with soulless, overpriced apartment buildings that lack sufficient on-site parking.

Just kidding! He doesn’t go that crazy!

Gyllenhaal’s character, Davis Mitchell, does work “in finance,” as he says, and his wife does meet an untimely end in an opening-scene car crash. But what’s unsettling to those around Davis, especially his wife’s father, Davis’ boss Phil (Chris Cooper, who played Gyllenhaal’s dad in 1999’s “October Sky”), is his lack of apparent bereavement. People grieve in many ways, of course, and the in-laws are somewhat patient. But when Davis starts obsessively corresponding with the customer service rep at the company that owns the hospital vending machine he got ripped off by to the tune of two bucks on the night his wife died, it’s clear that he’s gone a bit off. Said letters, of course, are composed in longhand on a yellow legal pad, because that’s what sane people do.

Look out Portland! Here comes Jake Gyllenhaal!

“Demolition” is director Jean-Marc Vallée’s follow-up to “Wild” and, before that, “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” each of which scored Oscar nominations for their lead actors’ portrayals of characters going through one sort of existential crisis or another. Davis fits that mold, but it’s worth noting that “Demolition” is being released in the spring rather than being held back for an Oscar-bait slot in the fall. It’s not that Gyllenhaal’s performance as this tormented widower is bad—it’s actually quite committed and intense. But it’s harder for him to elicit the level of empathetic identification that Reese Witherspoon or Matthew McConaughey can.


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