Jake Gyllenhaal has never been far from critical acclaim. Arriving amidst a furore of unanimous praise as the titular lead in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (his actual onscreen debut being the significantly lower key role of Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers) his career has gone from strength to strength to the occasionally massive pay-check for utter trite. He’s even garnered the badge of honour of stealing the role of Aquaman from the fictional Vincent Chase of Entourage. With Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler just on the horizon and its accompanying critical humdrum emitting noises that may or may not rhyme with “Shm-Oscar”, Donnchadh Tiernan takes a look at his five best performances so far.
5) End of Watch (2012)
A gatecrasher of many people’s 2012 Top Ten lists, David Ayer’s (kinda) found-footage police thriller rose and fell upon the chemistry that would form between Gyllenhaal and co-lead Michael Peña. As thrilling as actions scenes become they are ultimately carried by the presence (or lack there-of) of audience empathy, which the pair win in spades not by the fist-pumping canned bromance of recent Appatow-fair but by sex-stories, piss-taking and good old-fashioned DMC’s. When the chips fall in this one we care.
4) The Good Girl (2002)
This dark comedy in which Jennifer Aniston’s lonely, small-town check-out girl falls for Gyllenhaal’s Holden Worther, a teenage stock-boy convinced he is a reincarnate of Holden Caulfield. Meant solely as an indie-rebirth for Aniston in a post-Friends landscape, he here steals the show with the crazy-eyed teen angst that made his name in the first place, only this time taking the crazy to a place beyond the throbbing hearts of teenage girls and into the recline couches of teen psychiatrists.
3) Jarhead (2005)
His turn in Sam Mendes’ Gulf War I picture feels at times like an R-Rated Earnest Goes to Kuwait, but the well won chemistry between Gyllenhaal and the inimitable Peter Sarsgaard weaves a series of questions between the audience and the subject matter that are never satisfactorily answered, thus hammering the point of the film home in a manner Generation Kill. At no point however, in any of Simon’s unsettling HBO mini-series, does any actor get to lead in a credit sequence with a line so irreverent as “SIR, I GOT LOST ON THE WAY TO COLLEGE SIR!”.
2) Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Out of a choice of double-acts (the other being David Fincher’s under-watched Zodiac, which paired Gyllenhaal with Robert Downey-Jnr.) there was no getting away from Ang Lee’s masterpiece love-story. While Heath Ledger soaked up the critical acclaim as the world-baring Ennis Del Mar Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist provided the desperate, vocal agony of one unashamedly torn apart by love and longing for one unwilling to openly return his feelings.
1) Donnie Darko (2001)
While Nightcrawler may indeed provide the blast of limelight he’s been waiting for to drown out the shadow of his career-winning lead-role in Richard Kelly’s masterful debut, since its release Donnie Darko has, as a role, been the benchmark against which any Gyllenhaal performance must be tested. Granted, he’s working with one of the best un-doctored, raw screenplays indie-cinema has seen this century. Fair-enough, he’s surrounded by veterans such as Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze (as well as a never-scummier turn by then-newbie Seth Rogan), the latter of which is on career-best form. Take all those factors and more into account (the soundtrack, for one) and all of them boiled down to nothing when placed beside Gyllenhaal’s turn under hypnosis rambling about “fucking Christina Applegate”; a performance that deservedly won him a career that still numbers amongst Hollywood’s most interesting on offer. And if that’s not enough, he played one half of some of the best onscreen shifting I have ever seen. Outstanding.