“Demolition” struggles under the weight of its own rubble

Director Jean-Marc Vallee has created a name for himself by making Oscar-caliber films such as “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild.” His newest film “Demolition,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, attempts to recapture this fan-base and critical appeal once again. Unfortunately, the bar seems to have been set too high, as “Demolition” is unable to match the quality of Vallee’s previous work.

“Demolition” finds Davis (Gyllenhaal), an emotionally distant man working in the stock market for his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper). When Davis’ wife is tragically killed in a car accident, Davis struggles to react in an appropriate manner. There are times when he feels nothing at all and there are other times when he acts as if he’s completely lost his mind. After forming a relationship with a customer service representative named Karen (Naomi Watts) from a vending-machine company, and her juvenile 15-year-old son, Chris (Judah Lewis), Davis is finally able to begin to take his life apart — figuratively and literally — in an effort to understand his marriage.

It’s not that “Demolition” is a terrible film. There are redeeming qualities, mainly the performances, that prevent the film from being a two-hour bore. However, the movie suffers from its lost potential and unfocused narrative.

Despite opening with an intriguing first act, the movie resorts to cliches and sloppy writing as it progresses. There’s a strong sense that the film is trying too hard to create metaphors and double meaning in every single scene, rather than taking its time to develop the characters. This makes the plot jump around on an off-beat level.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character provides one of the most controversial elements in the film. We’ve seen Gyllenhaal give Oscar-worthy performances in “Nightcrawler” and “Prisoners,” and he certainly gives an entertaining performance in “Demolition.” However, the problem is that, despite Davis being the protagonist we are intended to root for, he comes across as being rather unlikable throughout the entirety of the film, which at times is taken to an absurd degree.

One of the highlights of the film is Judah Lewis in his breakout performance. His character takes a few unexpected twists toward the end of the film, and there was strong chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Lewis. Their scenes together are some of the most memorable scenes in the whole film.

Chris Cooper also gives an intense performance. His character reacts in a more rational way than Davis does after the death of his daughter, which puts him at odds with Davis for the majority of the film. However, his character is rather underdeveloped and does not get much screen time.

“Demolition” is a movie that could have and should have been great. Instead, it settles for having a few great scenes that are mixed into a mediocre at best film. While Jean-Marc Vallee has proven his talents behind a camera before, it’s fair to say we won’t be seeing “Demolition” come awards season.