Of the actors to transform themselves most dramatically this decade, from Christian Bale in The Fighter to Jared Leto in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, Jake Gyllenhaal is a master of the form, and yet he lacks the Oscar to show for it. He was buff and bald for Jarhead, bulky and scarred for Southpaw, and bug-eyed and skeletal for Nightcrawler. If he wasn’t such a skilled actor, you might confuse him for a glorified stuntman. So Vallée’s Demolition feels like an aberration, because he looks so… normal. Or at least he starts out that way.
Once Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) loses his wife, he stops shaving and doing all that other Wall Street worker stuff. Instead, he becomes a demolition man who dismantles refrigerators, computers, and other items that don’t work as they should. The symbolism may be heavy-handed, and the message obvious—everyone mourns in their own way—but Gyllenhaal makes Davis’s funny-sad journey worth watching.
Strong support from Naomi Watts, as a sympathetic customer service rep, and newcomer Judah Lewis, as her up-for-anything son, doesn’t hurt, but Demolition is almost as much of a one-person show as Wild, Vallée’s previous film.