Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the title character in Donnie Darko, a strange but provocative film that blends the line between reality and science fiction.
Gyllenhaal, who has starred in some very excellent films like The Good Girl and October Sky (and also will be featured in the upcoming drama Moonlight Mile), continues to make a name for himself, and he definitely deserves recognition. Aside from the failure Bubble Boy, Gyllenhaal has tried to stay away from mainstream teen films, and his strategy is working. Donnie Darko, released in only some theaters in 2001, shows that he has a long career ahead of him; Gyllenhaal controls the movie, whether as the protagonist or as a guy who is going a little nuts. Either way, he pulls it off.
Gyllenhaal is aided by an all-star cast that includes his sister Maggie, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone (who is pulling off a similar strategy, doing films like Life as a House, for example), and more recognizable faces. Okay, so maybe it's not an all-star cast, but you've seen them around, and they all do excellent jobs here.
The movie itself is really weird. Gyllenhaal is Donnie Darko, a boy who has a few mental problems and has been ordered by his psychiatrist to take some powerful drugs. After his room is destroyed by a jet engine that apparently fell out of nowhere, he begins to suspect that the demented rabbit he has been having visions of is actually real, and the one responsible for saving him. He falls under the rabbit's spell and starts doing nasty things, like vandalizing the school and burning houses - it really doesn't matter, because the rabbit has told him that the world will end on October 31. His investigation of what is going on leads him to the conclusion that the rabbit is from the future, and he starts to learn about time travel. But is the world coming to the end, and what is with this rabbit that no one else can see?
Yes, it sounds strange, and it is strange. Thankfully, it's no Mulholland Drive, although even a day later I'm not sure what the message was that the director was trying to get across. Nevertheless, though a little confusing at times, Donnie Darko is truly a captivating film; you have no clue how it is going to end, and you're really not worrying about that anyway - you're just so enthralled with what is going on in the present.
It's a thriller, it's a sci-fi film, it's a drama; Donnie Darko is none of these things, but at the same time is a strange mix of all three. It's hard to explain and shouldn't be explained; you have to see it for yourself.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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