I don’t know if it’s quite time to label Jake Gyllenhaal this generation’s De Niro, but there’s a string of performances over many films now that showcase this intense, impactful talent. In Demolition we see another of his fine performances, this time as a widower who must come to terms with his subsumed rage.
Directed by Quebecois filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, the movie’s at times harrowing, at times almost sweet, with a fine dynamic playing out in what in lesser hands would be mere melodrama. There’s a real passion on display here rather than just a by-the-numbers morality play, and it’s all the better for it.
Gyllenhaal is matched beat-for-beat with another sharp performance by Naomi Watts, along with newcomer Judah Lewis, while Chris Cooper plays a grieving father with enough variation to make the character more than two dimensional.
The metaphor may be overt, but it’s employed both through storytelling and performance in an emotionally effective way. Even the now relatively common “shock” scare at the beginning, echoed in what seems like a gazillion films of late, still manages to be both tidily dealt with early on and an effective way into the protagonist’s state of being.
With sharp editing and an accessible storyline, Demolition manages to entertain and provoke. It’s a strong piece, arguably Vallée’s best, and worth checking out if only to see one of our great actors show us how it’s done.