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DEMOLITION: 4 STARS. “a whimsical movie about a grief stricken man.”

DemolitionreviewGrief is no laughing matter, but with “Demolition” director Jean-Marc Vallée has managed to make a whimsical movie about a man on the edge of falling into the abyss.

Jake Gyllenhaal is investment banker Davis Mitchell. Wealthy and happy, his life is turned upside down after an accident. The movie begins with a shocking shot of Davis and his wife Julia (Heather Lind) driving and bickering about banal home stuff when they’re broadsided and she is killed.

Instead of being plunged into grief Davis becomes numb, impervious to the seven stages that usually accompanies grave loss. Going back to work immediately after the funeral, however, his behaviour becomes increasingly strange. When he writes a complaint letter to a vending machine company demanding a refund he finds an outlet for his feelings and a therapist of sorts in customer service rep Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts). As his letters grow increasingly heartfelt and raw Karen’s sympathetic ear and later, her rebellious son Chris (Judah Lewis) help Davis tear down his life so he can rebuild his world.

Gyllenhaal continues his quest to explore characters who aren’t immediately likeable or understandable. No other mainstream actor puts himself or herself out there as consistently or successfully as Gyllenhaal. He takes chances, throwing himself at edgy portrayals of real people. Here he delivers strong work, grounding the film’s quirkiness in a character you may not understand but can empathize with. He’s doing the heavy lifting here and his work humanizes this offbeat film. When Davis spontaneously dances on the streets of New York or demolishes his martial home it’s outrageous, but it is the sight of a man in pain refusing to face up to the fact that he wasn’t a very good husband and will never be able to make amends to Julia. It’s occasionally very funny, other times tragic and Gyllenhaal drifts between the two poles effortlessly.

“Demolition” is let down in its final moments when Vallée softens the soul-searching tone but the despite an ending that feels inauthentic, the film offers a welcome chance to see Gyllenhaal push boundaries.

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