Saturday, 21 September 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2001: Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko

Jake Gyllenhaal did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of Donnie Darko.

Donnie Darko although works as it does in its trippy time bending pseudo coming of age story, however it does seem like it is on a razors edge in terms of almost falling apart, though it never does. This barely scraping by though perhaps predicated writer/director Richard Kelly's apparent lack of success afterward.

It must be said  that Jake Gyllenhaal, despite having clearly a very successful career, has had a bit of strange one in terms of cultivating sort of an expected persona as an actor. This with different fits of attempted sort of "star" terms of different types, but always the return towards some darkly inclined character work. The most notable recent example of this being his greatest performance in Nightcrawler, and fittingly this also was found near the beginning here as part of his breakout. This film though not overly successful initially, has found its following leading to this becoming one of his noted roles, of course it helps playing a character with an alliterative name. A deserving state though as the performance falls into line well with Gyllenhaal's unique abilities as a performer. Gyllenhaal in many ways being an essential ingredient in realizing the film's success by balancing it all through his portrayal of Donnie that sort of bends itself through the various sort of tones that the film plays with in creating the strange journey of the young boy through time, life and death. This as he must be a whole lot of things to be Donnie who is a whole many things, really even just within the idea of what exactly is going on in the film.

Now on the most surface examination you have the story of just a troubled teenager potentially, who nearly dies from a jet engine crashing into his house, however that is only part of his troubles. He's a young man who seems off balance to most and Gyllenhaal is excellent in realizing this point in a few ways. This on the most surface area in creating that sort of confusion of self when he speaks to adults. This with a shying physical manner as he retires from situations that press his mental state, and that lack of confidence within situations. Gyllenhaal is effective in creating the sense of the "odd boy" that so many see Donnie as, though as this believable portrayal of just a boy with a mental illness. Take his scenes with his psychiatrist (Katherine Ross), Gyllenhaal as they speak of his "visions" Gyllenhaal creates the real sense of the anxiety within them as he speaks to her with the fear of a real teenager struggling with his mental state. This though in itself isn't something that Gyllenhaal makes as one note, and is terrific in finding ways to create the variation even in this state. I especially love one moment where his father broaches the subject in support of his son, and Gyllenhaal expresses this perfect hesitation though with appreciation in the moment for the love of father.

Technically speaking this off-beat state though makes Donnie a bit different in other settings other than with his concerned parents and other adults who are technically sympathetic to the young man. This in school where Donnie does have some friends, and slowly a girlfriend in new girl Gretchen (Jena Malone). He is also seen as the weird kid and Gyllenhaal finds an effective balance in his work in creating really each of these perspectives. This in the classroom he physically places himself retiring, however in his delivery he brings the intensity fitting his pressing existence that comes within discussions with his teachers over metaphysics, and literary themes. Gyllenhaal captures the right off-beat energy particularly in his scenes with Malone. This as he manages to be charming in a most particular way that is true to the character. This as even as he still has a bit of that shyness there is such an earnestness within his moments of just broaching any conversation with her. This with a real sweetness just beneath it that is so well realized within Gyllenhaal's performance. He manages to touch upon it to make the eccentricity honest to Donnie, while making it endearing within the very specific realm of this relationship. This where Donnie is absolutely honest as himself at every point in Gyllenhaal's performance.

Of course then there is the other state of Donnie with his "imaginary" friend the Rabbit Frank, who speaks to him of the demise of the world in reality and time bending sequences. These themselves being entirely different state of existence seemingly and where Gyllenhaal still excels once again. This in a way grounding them initially in creating the sense of fear in some interactions with Frank when he speaks of the upcoming demise of Donnie's world. Gyllenhaal balances with this fascination at times, amplified by state of hypnosis, of this state of thought that is indeed beyond the normal state of reality. Gyllenhaal delivers a needed weight to this moments by really granting this strict intensity within these moments as Donnie, quite understandably, is fixated within his visions. This state of being in turn also attaches itself to Donnie's actions of destruction of different forms, including publicly berating self-help guru/soon to be outed sex criminal Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). This moment though is a great one of this spirited yet oh so specific incisiveness within Gyllenhaal performance that creates the sense of sort of a force even beyond Donnie himself in his denouncement of Cunningham's philosophy. Of course the strength within all of this though is Gyllenhaal careful balance of each side of Donnie, that never feels inconsistent, but rather makes sense and amplifies the givens situation. This in turn makes the strange journey cohesive through his performance that creates the essential element through the humanity in his turn as Donnie. This as he makes a convincing portrayal of mental illness, a captivating portrayal of a man's journey into metaphysical madness, but also just a moving portrayal of a young man finding a bit of joy and enlightenment in his journey on Earth we think we know.


Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Huh, I actually thought he was going to get a 5.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: Kinda expected a five as well but at least he got reviewed for his breakout turn.

2001 Supporting
Bonus: Christensen

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: Not much longer until Bettany/Addy. :)

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Your Ratings and thoughts for the cast of Late Night?

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Have you seen Midsommar yet?

Luke Higham said...

Bryan: Not yet. The criticisms it received from members of the blog has put me off from seeing it for the moment though I'll see it eventually for Pugh.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Was hoping for a 5, but I’m still happy.

Mitchell Murray said...

Been a while since I've seen this film, but these are more or less my thoughts on Gyllenhaal's performance; A strong breakthrough turn that does add a consistency to the movie's bizarre tone.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Understandable. Would you mind giving thoughts on the film and cast when you get around to it? I just want to see what the final consensus on the film here will end up like lol.

Luke Higham said...

Bryan: Sure, but it's gonna be quite awhile till then.

Lucas Saavedra said...

Louis: what are your top 20 Raul Julia acting moments

Tim said...

I am hoping that Jim Carrey will win, but have no idea who actually will.

also, what are your thoughts and Rating of Alfred Molina in Spider Man 2?

Bryan L. said...

Tim: He gave his rating and thoughts for Molina here

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Luke: Yep, can't wait for the review of the all time great hype man performance and Addy's hilarious work either :)

Tim said...

Bryan L. oh, thank you

Anonymous said...

Your Emmy Predictions guys.

Calvin Law said...

Comedy Series: Fleabag
Drama Series: Game of Thrones
Limited Series: Chernobyl
Lead Actor (Comedy): Bill Hader, Barry
Lead Actress (Comedy): Rachel Brosnohan, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
Lead Actor (Drama): Billy Porter, Pose
Lead Actress (Drama): Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
Lead Actor (Limited Series/Movie): Jharrel Jerome, When They See Us
Lead Actress (Limited Series/Movie): Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon
Supporting Actor (Comedy): Tony Shalhoub, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
Supporting Actress (Comedy): Olivia Colman, Fleabag (she's on a hot streak)
Supporting Actor (Drama): Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (hoping for a Sullivan - who I haven't seen but have heard great things about - or Esposito upset)
Supporting Actress (Drama): Lena Headey, Game of Thrones (I'm expecting the worst and hoping for the best in these categories - hoping for a Garner upset)
Supporting Actor (Limited Series/Movie): Ben Whishaw, A Very English Scandal
Supporting Actress (Limited Series/Movie): Emily Watson, Chernobyl
Directing for Comedy Series: Bill Hader, Barry ('ronny/lily')
Directing for Drama Series: Miguel Sapochnik, Game of Thrones ('The Long Night')
Directing for Limited Series: Johan Renck, Chernobyl
Writing for Comedy Series: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag ('Episode 1')
Writing for Drama Series: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones ('The Iron Throne', category fraud though should be in Comedy)
Writing for Limited Series: Craig Mazin, Chernobyl

Calvin Law said...

I'm probably being optimistic here to be honest, I expect Game of Thrones will sweep even more than expected with a Harington win.

Luke Higham said...

I so do not want another Dinklage win.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: If previous Emmy wins are anything to go by, he's a lock for sure since they seem to barely even watch the series. Even worse, it'll be for the Iron Thone which I actually thought was the nadir of Dinklage's performances in this season (I could've sworn he was almost corpsing through that 'nothing more powerful than a good story' monologue, not that I blame him).

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

I think Julia Louis-Dreyfus will probably win her seventh Emmy for the final season of Veep. On that note, does anyone watch it?

Calvin Law said...

Oh yeah Louis could I have your thoughts on the supporting cast of Darko? Don’t think you’ve given them before.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the production design, costume design and cinematography of Brazil.

RatedRStar said...

Tahmeed: I watched the first couple of seasons of Veep and they were enjoyable enough, but basically its a lighter american version of The Thick Of It, no surprise given that its done by the same person.

Louis Morgan said...


Thompson - 2.5(Found she honestly was a bit miscast here. She's a very capable in comic roles however the sort of abrasive type was ill-fitting to her presence, and someone like Tilda Swinton would've made more sense in this role. She's still Thompsons so when she's working outside of narrow confines of her role as the abrasive boss/host, she has some decent moments.)

Kaling - 2.5(Doing her usual thing here with nothing particularly notable about it one way o the other.)

Lithgow - 2.5(Delivers a bit of genuine pathos at least into his one note "sad husband" role.)

Just about everyone else overacts at least a bit.


1. Kiss of the Spider Woman - Kiss of the Spider Woman
2. Opening - Kiss of the Spider Woman
3. Bisonopolis - Street Fighter
4. Goodbye to Molina - Kiss of the Spider Woman
5. "For Me, it was Tuesday" - Street Fighter
6. Fight during the rain - Kiss of the Spider Woman
7. Helping Molina - Kiss of the Spider Woman
8. "I beheld Satan as fell from heaven, LIKE LIGHTNING" - Street Fighter
9. Recalling his capture - Kiss of the Spider Woman
10. Reacting to the execution - Kiss of the Spider Woman
11. Fighting the poison - Kiss of the Spider Woman
12. "And it" - Street Fighter
13. The Mamushka - The Addams Family
14. A pleasant meal - Kiss of the Spider Woman
15. Playing with his trains - The Addams Family
16. "You have made me a happy man" - Street Fighter
17. Sword Fight - The Addams Family
18. Ending - Kiss of the Spider Woman
19. Bison Dollars - Street Fighter
20. "And miss Gilligan?" - The Addams Family


Osborne - 3.5(An enjoyable goof to be sure for much of his scenes, but I love his moment of more open affection to his son where he brings such a nice underplay warmth. I also love his chemistry with McDonnell in their scene of arguing over Donnie's potential punishment. This is as you get a sense of their dynamic immediately and so wonderfully.)

McDonnell - 3.5(The same as sort of the straighter role of the two parents, though again has that wonderful comic moment with Osborne. She's terrific though in granting the sense of concern for Donnie throughout, and also just offering this straight forward presence within the film.)

Gyllenhaal - 3(Despite having his real sister right here, though don't really use her much here. She's good in her limited role, but seems a little bit of a missed opportunity regarding her role.)

Malone - 3.5(Terrific chemistry with Gyllenhaal in creating sort of the connection in sort of the mutual sort of off-beatness. She nicely doesn't overplay it showing someone more emotionally capable in a social sense if burdened as well.)

Swayze - 3.5(Not too much of him but he makes for a great a bit of false sincerity underlined by a real sense of sleaze.)

Barrymore - 3(Fine sort of semi-mentor role of sorts, but I'll give her credit as she manages to bring a sense of who the teacher is even though her role is pretty small in the scheme of the film.)

Wyle - 3(Fine as closer to an actual mentor to Donnie, and again does well to grant a sense of specific character in largely a role to serve as exposition.)

Ross - 3.5(Very good actually in her largely reactionary performance, however she brings a real power within those reactions conveying the sense of concern for Donnie but also the certain curiosity and confusion of trying to figure it all out.)

Anonymous said...

It's been quite a while since I haven't made a dream cast, so...

The Rock (1960's version, directed by J. Lee Thompson)

Mason: Laurence Olivier
Goodspeed: Paul Newman
Hummel: Robert Ryan
Womack: Edmond O'Brien
Baxter: Dana Andrews
Paxton: James Garner
Anderson: James Coburn
Carla: Claudia Cardinale
Hendrix: Gene Hackman
Frye: Robert Blake
Darrow: Charles Bronson
Crisp: Robert Redford