By Bob Bloom
Everybody deals with grief in their own way: Some people cry, make a public display or turn to family and friends for support.
Others become introspective or shut down emotionally because the pain is too much to bear.
That seems to be the case with Davis Mathews in “Demolition.”
After Davis’ wife is killed in a car accident with him, he turns into himself, failing to show to others any outward reaction to his great loss.
As portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, Davis is not a demonstrative person, as scenes before the tragedy and flashbacks interspersed throughout the movie reveal.
Even prior to the accident, Davis appears closed off emotionally and mentally. The bereavement simply exacerbates his personality.
His lone outlet is the letters he writes to the customer-service representative of a vending-machine company to which he lost money while at the hospital the night of the fatal accident.
His writing is very precise and detailed, which gives us some insight into the mind of Davis. The minutiae he reveals about himself, his relationship with his wife, his life and his job tell us more about him than any other facet of the film.
His letters eventually touch the rep, Karen Mareno (Naomi Watts), and she calls Davis.
A friendship slowly evolves between the recent widower and the single mom with a troubled teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis), who is conflicted about his sexuality.
Despite the eccentric strong performance by Gyllenhaal and the solid portrayals by Watts and young Lewis, “Demolition” lacks the powerful emotional resonance the story seems to aim for.
The movie offers moments of suffering and insanity that grab you for an instant, but, for some reason, director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Bryan Sipe fail to sustain them. And despite the fine performances, the movie emits a seen-it-all-before, clichéd vibe.
Even when Davis’ attempts to demolish his old life — literally — first by taking apart a refrigerator to find a leak, then helping a demolition crew tear down other houses and, finally, escalating to the point that he buys a bulldozer to dismantle his own home, the motivation appears weak and artificial.
Gyllenhaal does make you feel for Davis simply because the character cannot find a way to articulate his feelings of loss and helplessness.
His Davis seems to be battling a riptide to keep his head above water so he can avoid drowning in an ocean of emotional turmoil.
Unfortunately, Vallée and Sipe put a neat bow on the finale, wrapping up the film in a contrived manner that feels rushed and forced.
“Demolition” is a decent feature, mainly because of Gyllenhaal. But it seems that it had so much more to offer — perspectives on loss and death that Vallée and Sipe either failed to realize or ignored.
This movie could have — should have — moved an audience. Instead, it leaves you unfulfilled and disappointed.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
2½ stars out of 4
(R), language, drug use, sexual references, violence, disturbing behavior