Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Jake Gyllenhaal

QuickView: Wildlife (2018)

“You know what they call trees in a forest fire? Fuel. You know what they call the trees left up when the fires go by? They call them the standing dead.”

Jeanette Brinson

Actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut is a 1960s family drama set in a small town that is surrounded by wildfires, a metaphor for the claustrophobic relationship and sense of impending doom at its heart. Dano’s style is restrained, trusting his actors’ performances to carry the film and he draws out wonderfully nuanced performances from Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. Both characters are harmed by their own pride, early tension arising when Jerry loses his job, set against the backdrop of shifting gender roles. The focus of Wildlife is really on Jeanette’s erratic behaviour in response to her marital troubles, and here Mulligan excels. The audience perspective is that of the couple’s 14-year-old son, and in key moments Dano chooses to leave the camera on Joe’s expression whilst the audience can surmise — contextually or through audio — what is happening off-screen. This is engaging, if old-school, performance-centric film making, and it serves the material well.


QuickView: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home poster

“I think Nick Fury just hijacked our summer vacation.”

Peter Parker

With Avengers: Endgame the obvious culmination of Marvel’s epic decade-spanning story arc, it seemed a little odd that Phase 3 would actually conclude with a Spider-Man film, but it actually makes a lot of sense to address the aftermath of those momentous events in a smaller interstitial that shows life in the MCU goes on. The breezy globe-trotting harkens back to the lighter entertainment of the early MCU, at its strongest in the more personal stories of Peter’s pursuit of MJ and his struggle with the loss of his mentor. This is not to detract from Jake Gyllenhaal’s wonderfully charismatic Mysterio, who makes it believable that Peter would latch onto him as a surrogate for Stark. The early fights benefit from a smaller scale, particularly in Venice where we stick with Spider-man as he works damage control while a battle rages between Mysterio and an elemental in the background; by the time we reach London, the drone-filled conclusion is CGI bombast over careful choreography. All of which goes to show that there is plenty of space for purely entertaining outings with characters old and new in the MCU. From where its future depth will come remains to be seen.


QuickView: Prisoners (2013)

“Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

Keller Dover

Denis Villeneuve may be my favourite currently working director off the back of his exceptional three-year run with the wildly different Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. In his earlier Prisoners he explores the world of cerebral urban crime that David Fincher gravitates toward. Cinematic and storytelling tropes mean that crime thrillers typically underwhelm in their third act, either through the obviousness of their conclusion or a sense that they have cheated. Prisoners is a rare exception that carefully ties together the disparate clues scattered during its slow burn build up, but it succeeds moreso because of the wider themes it explores around desperation and retribution. Its subject matter makes for challenging viewing with child abduction, murder and torture (although the film is notably restrained in what it depicts on-screen). All of the lead performances are captivating, but Jackman’s emotional energy is the film’s seething undercurrent as a father who will do anything to find his daughter — yet, unlike the focused vengeance of Liam Neeson in Taken, here his actions are bred from desperation and the audience is forced to question rather than simply being brought along for the ride. Unashamedly an adult experience, Prisoners is exhausting but rewarding.


QuickView: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

“I guess it’s a way of keeping things alive. You know, saving things that will eventually die. If I write it down, then… it’ll last forever.”

Edward Sheffield

Tom Ford’s sophomore film is a haunting, contemplative concoction that trusts its viewers to keep pace. Although to a lesser extent that A Single Man, Ford’s designer eye remains clear in the way he frames and controls each shot. Amy Adams brings melancholy introspection to an unhappily married woman revisiting the past after her ex-husband sends a manuscript of his novel, dedicated to her. Excising his demons through a strange form of disempowered revenge fantasy, half the film is spent within this fiction, which opens with a harrowing sequence on a lonely highway at night. Although the second half is less visceral, it becomes a more intellectual study of strength and weakness. Through Susan’s memories and Edward’s fiction we see both ex-partners working through the mistakes of a failed relationship, which might finally allow for a reconciliation.


Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko
director: Richard Kelly
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne
running time: 122 mins
rating: 15

“What if you could go back in time and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better?”


Donnie Darko is a bizarre and daring work, all the more impressive as it is the debut from twenty six year old director Richard Kelly. Viewed largely through the eyes of a paranoid schizophrenic teenager, it is engrossing but often difficult to grasp. This is a very odd movie.

Donnie [Jake Gyllenhaal] is a troubled, mentally ill teenager living in the suburbs toward the end of the eighties. One night a deep voice rouses him and causes him to sleepwalk out of his house. There he is confronted by the nightmarish vision of Frank, a six food rabbit with a surreal face twisted into a permanent grin. Frank explains that the world is ending, and realising Frank has saved his life, Donnie feels compelled to follow his instructions.

The tangled science fiction plot involving time travel is confusing and even by the close of the film remains unclear. This may be seen as a flaw and indeed Kelly’s message through the film seems clouded and vague. However this equally leaves Donnie Darko open to a great degree of interpretation, and it is indeed a film that touches on many different aspects of suburban life and hence has many points to make. There are musings on censorship, education, politics, the nature of madness, existensialism, relationships and sex, as well as a philosophical treatise on time travel, all filtered through Donnie’s mind, trying to process this information in a psychotic manner.

Since we see events largely from Donnie’s perspective, Kelly crafts a stunningly realistic world around him, undoubtedly based on his own memories of the era. The film is rife with careful references that place the film in its time, “I’m voting for Dukakis”. The excellent soundtrack is also filled with superb gems from the 80s including Joy Division, The Church and Echo & The Bunnymen.

The film’s mixture of serious sequencies and dark humour is a perfect blend, resting largely on the shoulders of Jake Gyllenhaal, since we are sharing in Donnie’s experiences. It is undoubtedly fascinating to watch him slip into insanity and then rise to visionary as he followed Frank’s advice leading him acts of criminal destruction. Gyllenhaal seems innocent and introverted, yet also knows when to let go as Donnie does get heated when passionate about a belief. His hunched posture around his classmates shows how he doesn’t fit in. Even around his friends, his intelligence sets him apart, “why do you always have to get so smart on us?” complains one after a truly hilarious sermon on the nature of Smurfette. Similarly he feels out of place around his family, althought they clearly care about him. In a poignant scene he asks is mother “how does it feel to have a wacko for a son?” to which she quietly responds, “wonderful”. His family add a real weight to many sequences, with real-life sister Margaret, Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne (a veteran father in teen movies) all putting in good performances. Donnie Darko‘s success lies in amalgamation of the science fiction plot with great the depth into Donnie’s social life, both at school and home through a script full of sharp dialogue without cliché.

The cinematography is beautiful throughout, with an amazing attention to detail. An impressive array of technical skills are displayed, most notably a single silent tracking shot through Donnie’s school that encircles, zooms, speeds up and slows down, set to Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels”, swiftly establishing the atmosphere of the buzzing community, from the secretly coke-addicted jock to the professional frustration of Donnie’s English teacher (played by producer Drew Barrymore – an unusual film for her, but she has always encouraged independent film makers).

There are some extremely eerie scenes involving Frank, whose slow otherworldly voice is compelling, and it is believable that Donnie would follow his instructions, whether he is merely a figment of a troubled mind or not. The fact he is cearly wearing a zip-up bunny suit makes him all the more creepy, especially the moment when he appears in the cinema and when Donnie asks, “why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?” he quietly retorts, “why do you wear that stupid man suit?”

It is utterly futile to attempt to summarise Donnie Darko, but suffice to say it is one of the most intellectually cagey and challenging films, which will keep running through your head long after the end.


There is a great wealth of background information available through the DVD, official website and a script book, which includes the full “Philosophy of Time Travel”, Roberta Sparrow’s book which Donnie acquires. This explains that a tangent universe is formed when someone does not die at the point they are intended to. The result is that reality is altered and a tangent is created which will eventually collapse. Within this tangent are the vessel (who should have died), the manipulated living (those living in the tangent universe) and the manipulated dead (those who die in the tangent universe but should have lived in reality). The latter are the most powerful, with the ability to travel through time to guide the vessel, who has the power to return to the original point at which the tangent universe was created, fulfill their destiny restore reality. That is the task Donnie performs, with Frank to guide him. What is unclear, however, is just how much is a figment of Donnie’s deluded mind. The continuity such as Frank’s bleeding eye in the cinema could mean Donnie is in fact experiencing something real, or alternatively, his delusions are what lead him to shoot Frank in the eye later on, in order to make his delusions manifest in reality. Has he simply absorbed the information from the Sparrow’s book into his own psychotic world? Just how much is real and how much exists only in Donnie’s mind is ultimately for the viewer to ascertain…


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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