Ever since Donnie Darko was released way back in 2001, I’ve been a big fan of Jake Gyllenhaal. Over the years, the actor has proven himself to have all the charm you could want from a leading man in a Hollywood movie. He’s got the looks and the charisma to play the action hero or love interest, yet there’s always been a strange aura that has followed him over the course of his career; a sense of the different that separates him from other actors of his generation and drips into each of his performances.
Over the past few years especially, his career has been an intriguing one to watch. He’s gone from playing a blinky detective in Prisoners, to a gaunt and sociopathic ‘journalist’ in Nightcrawler, followed by an incredibly muscaler boxer in last year’s Southpaw. His commitment, both physically and mentally, to his craft is admirable and his performances are often the best part of any movie that he’s in.
The same can be said for his latest vehicle, Demolition; a dramedy from Oscar-nominated director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild). Once again, Gyllenhall has taken a leap from something somewhat conventional – last year’s Everest – to something rich with depth and oddness.
He plays Davis, an investment banker who has recently lost in his wife in a car accident. Whilst many deal with the loss naturally, Davis seems unable to cry or feel emotional in anyway. Instead, he seems to find solace in the taking apart and demolishing of things around him – a fridge, a cubicle door, his shiny and lavish home – in the hope of putting it all together again – an obvious metaphor for Davis’ deconstructing and examining of his life.
When he first hears of his wife’s death, he tries to buy a bag of chocolate from a vending machine, which gets stuck and hangs there taunting him. He writes a letter of complaint to the vending machine company, bringing them and us, the audience, up to speed with his life so far. It’s a brilliant narrative device from writer Bryan Sipe, a blackly comic gag which also furthers the plot when Davis begins to form a relationship with Karen, a customer service advisor for the company.
Sipe’s screenplay is marvellous, examining how different people deal with death in different ways. There’s a great deal of sadness that resides within the film, but there are laughs to be bad as well – most of which are derived from the chemistry between Gyllenhaal’s Davis and Karen’s sexually confused young son, Chris, who is played by a wonderful Judah Lewis.
Sipe’s writing is beautifully humanist, filled with love, heartbreak, regret and optimism. It is a fascinating character study, which is grounded by another exceptional performance from Gyllenhaal who has the tough job of making someone who is emotionally impotent, likeable. Whilst Demolition won’t be for everybody – some people may be put off by the film’s quirks – Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance and Bryan Sipe’s writing are worth the ticket price in themselves. Personally, I loved it.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com