Jake Gyllenhaal’s been acting since the age of 10, after approximately 25 feature films he’s now considered one of the most talented professionals currently working, with talent that rivals the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Tom Cruise and many more. To get to this level of prestige, Jake has had to blend consistency, variety and pure hard work in to every single role. Like the names listed above, whenever Jake Gyllenhaal appears in a film, it’s most likely an entertaining one coupled with a standout performance from himself. Due to the release of Southpaw in cinemas, I decided it’s time to look at Jake’s most famous, award winning, critically acclaimed, career defining roles.
Donnie Darko was Jake Gyllenhaal’s first notable role and it was right at the inception of his career, to this day it might still be his one of his most popular films. Donnie Darko is something one might see as a very depressing, but in fact it tackles various social problems and it does this through the title character.
‘Oh please tell me Elizabeth, how exactly does one suck a fuck?!’- Donnie
Jake successfully presents us the thoughts of every teenager, in a constantly tired uncaring look. Often reacting to subjects such as religion, love and life in a callous disgust. While this isn’t exactly one of Jake’s best performances it’s definitely one of his most famous. Often mentally fighting everyone and everything, at times it may seem like Gyllenhaal’s performance is too simple but that’s what makes it so natural, especially when he himself is very different in reality.
In Brokeback Mountain Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both combine their talent and passion to tell a love story that would resonate with any viewer regardless of their sexuality or gender. Though the film arguably surrounds the performance of Ledger as Ennis, Gyllenhaal shines as the cowboy in love with him, he embodies all of our emotions that we have felt in romantic relationships past and future. A sense of hope, longing and the aching feeling inside the pit of your stomach whilst you’re waiting for somebody you know you can never have. Gyllenhaal’s performance here is widely celebrated earning him an Oscar nomination as well as many others, perhaps because he approached the character so humanely, completely dispelling the superficial fact the main relationship was same sex, aiding the audience to see Jack Twist as a lonely man who helplessly fell in love.
Often a talented actor will try there hand at playing two characters in the same movie (usually twins), Armie Hammer did this in David Fincher’s The Social Network. However Jake’s performance in this psychological thriller Enemy is criminally underrated, well…maybe not underrated. But it didn’t get the exposure it deserved due to the films small budget and lack of distribution. Here Jake plays two characters who are wildly different from each other, while not being very different at all. Two equals one. It’s a nuanced performance that’s so good your brain thinks ‘They’re just two people that look alike’…Jake’s excellent throughout the film, but he shines in scenes when he plays opposite himself (or tennis ball in reality), there’s such authenticity it’s just as strange for you as it is for Adam or Anthony looking at each other. It seems Jake is at his most comfortable when working with Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners), It’s an elegant and well crafted film in it’s own right, if you want as much Jake as possible, watch it!
What makes Jake’s turn as the mysterious Detective so enthralling is the fact he’s by far the most interesting character in a film where he isn’t the protagonist. Jake’s performance adds such curiosity, Detective Loki has a backstory that has directly affected his personality and mannerisms during the film, while this should be the case with all characters in film and storytelling, his is made even more apparent, as an audience we know almost nothing about where Detective Loki comes from. The idea his name is ‘Loki’ is already enough to spark warning signals… Jake decides to use a very intimate and sometimes physical acting style in the film, Loki blinks a lot, Jake said he added this himself because he imagined someone who was that calculating and smart would try and hold back emotional ties and information that may effect his job. Thus a computer dealing with a ‘glitch.’ Intimate quiet moments can erupt into fits of rage and anger. This happens subtly throughout the film, however the scene below is my personal favourite as it defines his character entirely in one scene. A hard working, intelligent, introverted and aggressive young man.
‘Lou’ as he likes to be called, is one of the most original (and disturbing) characters put to film in recent years. While I’m sure when asked Jake would say it was Dan Gilroy’s script that invented such a meticulously weird character, it doesn’t matter. This was the performance that had Gyllenhaal back in the running for literally every Best Actor category during award season. While Jake did lose a lot of weight (he imagined Lou would look like a coyote), that’s not what’s important here. It’s his delivery and dedication to remembering paragraphs of lines while still manifesting a realistic atmosphere in a scene. Being able to pull off such a specific character with no previous alignment in any other media (books, real life) is no small feet, precise hand gestures and a deadly stare can also come off very poor and ridiculous if not handled absolutely perfectly. And that’s what this is, a perfect performance, below is a sample of such brilliance. It’s fair to say this was the film that had everyone in the industry adding up all his previous roles to this one, asking themselves ‘In the future could this be one of the best actors our time?’
Gyllenhaal is a humble and discerning man, he often thinks deeply about simple situations making his personality completely synchronised for a career in acting. Here’s a wonderful tribute to all of his work so far…
Honourable Mentions: Zodiac (2007), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), End of Watch (2012), Love and Other Drugs (2010), Jarhead (2005), Source Code (2011), Southpaw (2015)
Words by Levi Eddie Aluede ¦ Special Thanks to Camila Rusailh for writing the Brokeback Mountain segment.