It feels like Jake Gyllenhaal has been around for ever, yet he’s only just celebrated his 36th birthday. He was just nudging a tender 21 when he made Donnie Darko, introducing cinema-goers to those huge, expressive eyes. The film itself gets a re-release in UK cinemas this week, lovingly restored in 4k and with a whole new generation waiting for it with baited breath.
As for Gyllenhaal, the only way was up. Here’s five of his best performances after that all-important breakthrough. And there’s not a rabbit in sight.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
This was the biggie, the one that brought Gyllenhaal recognition as a serious actor. And he hadn’t hit 25. Like Heath Ledger’s repressed Ennis Delmar, his Jack Twist concealed his personal reality, but he was the more extrovert flirt of the two. It was the role that won him a BAFTA, an Oscar nod and numerous other nominations. And sent him rocketing into the big league…
David Fincher’s intelligent thriller about San Francisco’s Zodiac killer had a cast to die for – Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo alongside Gyllenhaal. This was one of his quieter, more intense roles, playing newspaper cartoonist, Robert Graysmith, who became fascinated with the murders and teamed up with crime reporter Downey Jr to solve the mystery. Their double act had more than a few echoes of Redford and Hoffman’s Woodward and Bernstein in All The President’s Men over 30 years before.
Gyllenhaal moved from newspaper man to cop in Denis Villeneuve’s highly praised drama about the disappearance of a young girl. On the surface, his Detective Loki appeared calm and sympathetic, trying to keep the genie of Hugh Jackman’s emotional father in the bottle. In reality, he was a ruthlessly ambitious hot shot, devoid of any real emotion who’s just fascinated by the case itself. Other people were no more than a hindrance.
Gyllenhaal dropped 20lbs for a role that not only demonstrated his range as an actor but his lack of fear when it comes to giving a character real authenticity. He lost the weight because he saw Lou Bloom as a hungry coyote. What he created was something more ghoulish, with those large eyes popping out of a gaunt face. It was the perfect look for somebody prowling the streets of LA to track down stories of murder, mayhem and violence to sell to local TV. He was outstanding in this satire on present day media – nervy, twitchy and totally amoral – and, although he just missed out on an Oscar nod, there were BAFTA, Golden Globe, Spirit and SAG nominations by way of compensation.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
In Tom Ford’s stylish film within a film, Gyllenhaal played two characters – or, put another way, two sides of the same character. Away from the thriller at the centre of the movie, he is Amy Adams’ husband, the aspiring writer she fell in love with but, ultimately, she didn’t believe in his talent. Yet he turns out to be a success, sending her a copy of his latest novel by way of a reproach. Inside that novel, he’s a husband who loses his wife and daughter in a horrific incident, one that he feels powerless to prevent. Both men have shared characteristics – weaknesses especially – but Gyllenhaal draws those similarities and differences so accurately that there’s never any chance of confusion.
The 4k restoration of Donnie Darko is in cinemas on Friday, 23 December.