Jake Gyllenhaal is probably the most interesting lead actor in movies right now. He’s having a De Niro moment, where he disappears into his roles with grim commitment and turns in magnetically impressive performances, film in, film out. Nightcrawler, Southpaw, End of Watch, Prisoners – it’s a terrific run of form, continued by Demolition.
He plays a Wall Street financier who reacts to his pretty wife Julie’’s death in a car accident by having one huge meltdown.
He starts dismantling his life, his appliances, his whole house. He starts writing letters to a vending machine company after a packet of MnM’s doesn’t come out in the hospital while he’s waiting for news of his wife’s death.
The film mostly takes the form of these voiced-over confessional letters to the customer service dept at the vending company… until the rep writes back and we discover…it’s Naomi Watts.
She, as Karen Moreno, becomes equally obsessed with him and his soulful outpourings and the pair embark on an ill-advised affair. Soon her teenaged, Bowie-emo son is involved and becoming Jake’s new friend, helping Jake sledgehammer away his past and, of course, his relationship with his wealthy boss father-in-law (Chris Cooper, always good) who wants to create a foundation in his daughter Julie’s memory.
I like watching Jake very much. He is really good as he depicts the numbness and irrational, making it seems natural and plausible, and I liked the anger, the chaos and the destruction of petty consumer things here, which is both startling and bitterly funny.
But, this film by Jean Marc Vallee, lets its protagonist down badly as it gets too cute while it tries to complete itself, tying up ends, mending hearts and seeking symbolic redemption in the form of a restored Coney Island carousel for learning-impaired children. It might have been what the late Julie would have wanted, but it’s not what the film needed at all.