Movie review of "Demolition": Thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as a man trying to cope with the sudden death of his wife, this drama is a powerful meditation on the unhinging effects of deep grief. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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They are eyes that haunt.

They are the eyes of Jake Gyllenhaal, deep-set and unsettling in the extreme when, in “Demolition,” they’re staring out at the world with a penetrating look of shock and loss.

His character, Davis Mitchell, a Wall Street investment banker, is stunned into an almost trancelike state of grief by the sudden death in a car crash of his wife (Heather Lind).

Movie Review ★★½  

‘Demolition,’ with Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis, Chris Cooper. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, from a screenplay by Bryan Sipe. 101 minutes. Rated R for language, some sexual references, drug use and disturbing behavior. Several theaters.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”), who clearly knows what he’s got with Gyllenhaal, shows the crash not with rending metal and flying glass but in a reaction shot of Gyllenhaal’s alarmed eyes as, riding as a passenger while his wife drives, he sees death arrive.

He’s traumatized. He doesn’t know what he should feel. He’s spiritually flash-frozen. And it’s all there in his eyes — the eyes of a lost soul.

In this frozen state, he is eerily calm. In the waiting area of the hospital emergency room, he’s quietly dismayed when a vending machine malfunctions and won’t dispense the peanut M&M’s he punched in the code for.

And so, unmoored, he writes what becomes a series of letters to the company in which he spills out his life’s history. Strange.

Stranger still, the customer-service rep who gets the letters, played by Naomi Watts, is moved by his disclosures. A single mom in an unsatisfactory relationship with her boyfriend, she, too, is kind of a lost soul. A relationship slowly forms.

The script by Bryan Sipe takes turns quite literal-minded when Jake latches onto a comment from his father-in-law (Chris Cooper) that “repairing the human heart is like repairing an automobile. You have to take everything apart. Examine everything. Then you can put it back together.”

And so, with screwdrivers, sledgehammers and crowbars, he proceeds to dismantle his kitchen, his office and ultimately his home — bring on the bulldozer! — in a burgeoning orgy of destruction as he attempts to smash through to his locked-up feelings.

“Demolition” suffers from a piling-on of subplots, with Davis warily befriending the Watts character’s troubled teen son (Judah Lewis) and dealing with a hidden issue in his marriage and being creeped out by a strange station wagon that seems to be stalking him.

By the end, it’s falling apart under the weight of all the extraneous divergings, but thanks to Gyllenhaal’s performance, “Demolition” stands out as a powerful meditation on the unhinging effects of deep grief.