In a world full of “Oscar bait,” it only seems natural that you would have a few clunkers in the mix, films that from the surface, look like a shoe-in for the coveted golden statue, but are simply hollow incarnations of their better, deeper counterparts. These films can range from the underwhelming like “Woman in Gold,” to the downright atrocious like “Diana,” showing that any sort of anticipation during production surely voids any sort of the validity that the film may have. This is where “Demolition” comes in. Having a trailer released all the way back in October, this film quickly became the film that I saw the trailer for at least 30 times before movies and I already felt sick of the film before I ever even saw it, but the film itself has the distinct feeling of a clunker just by its release date. You can always tell that a film won’t reach its Oscar potential if the film releases in the middle of the dullest time for film of the year.
This isn’t to say that “Demolition” is poorly made or acted, I just disliked everything the film was about.
Focusing on Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) after his wife’s death in a car accident, we follow Davis as he struggles to feel emotion after this incident. Weaving his way through his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper) and his new friend, Karen (Naomi Watts) and her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), he goes on a journey of self-discover and self-destruction to find feeling in the world.
There’s only one small problem: I don’t care.
Davis isn’t numb from his wife’s death, he’s a mentally ill douchebag whom we’re supposed to support in his journey to wallow even more in his mental illness. His social quirks only seem to come off as rude, inconsiderate remarks towards someone’s character and I couldn’t find many redeeming qualities in him. Aside from him, even the supporting cast acts terribly, if not only from the presence of Davis, it really made me dislike most of the characters. The only character I can say got away mostly clean was Phil, as his indiscretions came solely from Davis’ poor handling of every situation thrown at him.
But that’s where “Demolition” fails even more, we’re supposed to sympathize with an über-rich New York yuppie as he destroys everything in his life that some people work an entire lifetime to have. But it’s okay, Davis can just re-buy everything because he’s rich. I’m not saying that wealthy people don’t have interesting stories, but when the story is their ability to be reckless and inconsiderate because of their wealth, then you have lost me.
Despite being pretty unlikable, the entire cast does do a good job with the material, with Gyllenhaal doing the most impressive work. It’s not anyone’s best work, but it certainly is one of the better parts of the film. I applaud Gyllenhaal, Watts and Cooper for going outside their comfort zones and I see a bright future for newcomer Lewis, but it all seems wasted.
Coming off his masterful work on “Wild,” director Jean-Marc Valée hits a bit of a speed bump here, but still manages to out-do the film itself he’s directing. The best thing about “Wild” was that Valée found a match in his directorial style with that of a script that fit him. “Demolition” does not fit him, as the film is a pretty restrained piece that takes place in really small, urban settings. Valée has found his niche in larger, open, natural settings that give both him and the actors room to breathe. Valée does good work here, it’s just not very befitting of his style.
A film can be as well-made as it needs to be, but if I don’t care, it’s all for naught. “Demolition” is a well-made movie with some good performances and solid directing, but the screenplay paints such pretentious, unlikable characters into the mix that it makes it hard to root for anything that these characters are doing, let alone even keep up. Valée is easily a good enough filmmaker that this won’t hurt him in the long run and even then, his work here is commendable, but the script (which he did not pen) struggles to find any footing at all. “Demolition” made me look forward to all the better projects every person involved will be in in the future, just not now.