Jake Gyllenhaal has got to be the most talented actor currently working in Hollywood. Sporting a filmography choc full of outstanding performances that span his entire career. It's simply staggering the amount of brilliant, original film releases he's starred in over the years, with the actor seemingly incapable of a bad performance, never being one to half ass it. It's a damn impressive list of thought provoking film choices, sure to cause jealousy among lesser actors, with films like Donnie Darko/Highway/The Good girl/Zodiac/Jarhead/Source Code/Brothers/Brokeback Mountain/Rendition/Nightcrawler, as well as the two aforementioned films I am about to discuss at great length, all being stunning examples of film making at it's finest. All perfect showcases for his amazing talent, not just at delivering fantastic performance's, but also his talent in role choice's. The man knows a great script when he see's one, as proved by his incredible filmography. It's such a rare thing for one single actor to have appeared in so many revolutionary films. Films that help push the art form, thus proving Hollywood not yet totally devoid of an original idea.
While Donnie Darko may have birthed the actors love affair with deep, thought provoking, darkly themed, cinematic ventures, it must have been Prince of Persia that surely taught him not to waste his time with 'standard' Hollywood. Prince of Persia and Day after tomorrow, while not terrible film's help serve as examples of what not to do, with Gyllenhaal feeling dramatically under utilised when not pushing the boundaries of film making. Wisely learning to avoid anything resembling potential Hollywood blockbuster, realising he works far better in smaller, more personal productions. He's strong penchant for kooky, off-kilter styling's not really synonomous with standard Hollywood is exactly what sets him apart from the rest
Johnny Depp had always been my favorite actor, but his recent film misfires have been glaring and too hard to ignore. I'll always have a soft spot for him due to his penchant for pushing the envelope of mainstream cinema delivering outstanding and truly memorable performances in film's like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Blow and Deadman, and I've always dug the 'Depp/Burton' relationship, but honestly it's starting to feel a little old. Gone are classic collaborations like Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, instead now replaced with mediocre reproductions of famous properties. Mainly generic, family friendly films devoid of originality, and peppered in comic overtones. While always delivering a great performance, whatever the film, Burton collaborations like Willy Wonka, Mad Hatter and even Barnabas the vampire from Dark shadows, all act as perfect examples of Johnny's more recent penchant for chasing "kooky", "iconic" and "memorable" roles these days, but sadly forgetting it was his amazing acting skills that made those original roles so memorable and iconic in the first place, not the other way around. Asides from the odd exception (I thoroughly enjoyed both The Corpse Bride and Sweeney Todd) the standard set by Burton's brilliant earlier adaptations has since been lowered into 'decidedly mediocre' territory. I never thought I'd say this, but Johnny, you're starting to play it a little too safe these days, with the huge success of the pirates franchise seemingly robbing you of your uniqueness, leading to a slew of releases that can at best be described 'standard Hollywood fare'. I worry we'll never receive another role as nearly memorable as ''Ed Wood', 'Raul Duke' or even 'Gilbert Grape'.
Unlike Depp's recent foray into mediocrity, Gyllenhaal is proving to be a total master of his acting craft, only picking totally original, clever film roles, delivering pure unrestrained, quality performances, completely unafraid to revel in the absurd. The truly brilliant Donnie Darko, arguably being the absolute pinnacle of Indie cinema, served a perfect showcase for Gyllenhaal's burgeoning acting talent. He has since comfortably found his niche in Hollywood, with low budget indie film making being the order of the day. Moody atmosphere, and dark subject matter ripe for reinterpretation, being classic Gyllenhaal staple's. Always with a strong emphasis on producing clever, intricate, wholly original piece's of art. All technique's proving much more important to quality film production than any trivial budget extension or marketing tool. Nobody could blame Gyllenhaal's choice to place a strong focus on thematically dark, mature, art-house releases, they were far more interesting than typical Hollywood after all, how could you fault when the finished results were so damn good? Audience's are truly lucky actors like Jake Gyllenhaal even exist. Helping keep film making pure and interesting. It is an art form, thus should be treated as such when signs of definition are obviously prevalent. I recently tracked down a copy of the film Prisoners. Due to discovering, and subsequently falling in love with director Denis Villenueve's second film Enemy. Both films sharing the same director and both starring vehicles for Gyllenhaal. While both films share a similar dark, adult tone, and both being perfect examples of cinematic art, open to heavy interpretation in terms of both plot and subject matter, they are distinctly different in tone and thematically at least, light years apart.
In Prisoners Hugh Jackman delivers a stunning performance as a distressed father, living out every parents worst nightmare. It also serves as an interesting (and uncomfortable) character study. What would you do for the one's you love, how far would you go, and what effect would it have on you're mental state? As we are privy to one man's confronting, search for answers, setting aside any moralistic standing's in dedication to his cause, and the severe consequences that result from such a desperate course of action. No disregard for the laws of both God or man and blind to the emotional tole it's taking on his strained psyche or the physical dangers that could occur. We see how one single ordeal, however emotionally crippling, can so drastically alter one person's life, often resulting in a complete change of persona. We bare witness to this transformation after the character experience's such tragedy. Sadly changing from loving and dedicated father, with strict religious beliefs, strong family values and moralistic standing, change to resemble something polar opposite. All previous character traits now disregarded in favor of the cause. His little girls life hanging in the balance, leaving little time to ponder such morally ambiguous decisions. Instead, he makes dangerous, unflinching decisions with little regard to the obvious (severe) consequences. Jackman's portrayal of a man pushed to absolute breaking point, ably delivers a 'career best', 'tour de force' performance, in a rare case of playing 'against type' for the talented actor, delivering with fantastic results further cementing his impressive 'standing' in Hollywood.
However brilliant Jackman was in the part, he was (unfortunately for him) overshadowed by his amazingly talented co-star. Gyllenhaal's pitch perfect depiction of the tough, young cop working the case, proving most memorable. A true show stealing performance. He is just plain brilliant in the role, perfectly portraying such a likable, albeit flawed character with a dedication rarely seen in current film's. A potential victim of child abuse, with a tumultuous upbringing, this tough as nails cop, despite the rough exterior, has a good heart and a penchant for rule breaking when times deem appropriate. While main star Jackman is busy delivering the performance of his career, and the rest of the cast all bringing their proverbial A-game, it's no small feat stealing the show. It's a true testament to Gyllenhaal's enormous acting talent, gaining such attention in a production already brimming with class and rock solid performances.
Prisoners features a twisting tale of child kidnapping and the dangerous lines a desperate father must cross to get them back. This may have been an easier premise to grasp, when compared to the 'lucid' and deeply thematic plot line of the directors following film 'Enemy'. With all it's hidden themes wrapped in sordid 'doppelganger' affairs, representing issues of commitment fear's and alienation, the film proves a little more cerebral in nature. Numerous eerie dream like sequences, litter the proceedings, oftentimes mirroring the film's events as depicted by horrifying scenes of monstrous spiders. As a person who suffers a strong fear of all things arachno, I must admit feeling a little uneasy at times during the film's preceding's. I literally jumped out of my skin upon viewing the film's final scene for the first time. These "supposedly" random scenes actually serving as an allegory for intimacy fears and relationship failures. Yes it's a thematically heavy film and when compared to the Director's previous effort Prisoners, its hard to make a strong comparison script-wise. Prisoners told a realistic story. Horrifying and twisted maybe? Filled with surprise twists and revelations that while a rock solid script, was much more 'straight forward' in nature.
While Prisoners was perhaps a touch easier to grasp and follow, given the plot being free of allegories and hidden meaning, it was by no means a mainstream release. Its dark and realistic subject matter potentially turning off audience interest. While themes still play a vital part in Prisoners, this time they are less ambiguous. If placed in a similar situation, how would you react? While his transformation may be understandable given the terrifying situation, it still manages to raise the question, do the ends justify the mean's? A loving family man and father of two, horrifyingly pushed to breaking point when becoming the target for child abduction. With time running out and frustration's with the police, he is forced to take the law into his own hands, planning a kidnapping of his own, torture being the order of the day. The film tasks you with figuring you're own moral stance on the unfolding proceedings. Are such drastic, violent measures ever really justified? Does he appear sympathetic or cold-hearted and obsessed? Is the torture a useful means to an end? Nasty but necessary. Or a sign of the character's ensuing moral breakdown and complete lack of empathy? (or humanity?) This decision is yours alone to make.
The film successfully raises such morally dubious pontifications, the story being more accessible (in the traditional sense of the word) script-wise, more so than Enemy's surreal and dreamy, theory laden script. It's Prisoners that proves the tougher watch. Due to it's often realistic and down-right depressing depiction of such a horrendous crime. Both film's are brilliant examples of pure cinematic art. Given Gyllenhaal's already sublime resume, this is quite a magnificent achievement. If these two genre bending masterpieces somehow fail to convince you of Gyllenhaal's incredible acting talent, then i'm afraid nothing will. In fact, it's somewhat understandable the films no matter how perfect they are, wont be to everyone's taste. Too cerebral for a mainstream audience, which is fine, mainstream appeal isn't the intention. Take for instance David Lynch. A truly phenomenal director (judging Gyllenhaal's filmography, an obvious influence) A true cinematic genius. Yet still has a devout legion of haters. I think that statement perfectly sums up how truly illogical us humans can often be. "The brilliant David Lynch actually has a legion of haters" I must have fallen into bizarro earth or something? Bizarro earth, where up is down, hi is bye and David Lynch isn't showered in appropriate praise 24/7 by every grateful film loving human on earth? Despite creating the brilliant television masterpiece Twin Peaks, as well as revolutionising cinema with all his groundbreaking, cinematic achievement's (Blue Velvet, Mulholland drive, Lost Highway) It's hard to understand how all that praise can result in being unfairly maligned? What chance is there for Jake Gyllenhaal or other actors and directors of his ilk looking to try something new and different? Thankfully some people still enjoy thinking outside the box (or just thinking) preferring an open ended plot and a film experience that stick's with you long after the credits roll. I love films that raise more questions than they answer. It's fun drawing your own conclusions then comparing theories with other fans, leading to deeply thought out discussion's and arguments regarding the film's 'hidden'' meaning's. The beauty of film's like this is neither party ever 'definitively' being considered wrong in assumptions. 'Whatever you took from the film' being the definitive answer. Jake Gyllenhaal and other's like him are the only one's currently keeping Hollywood alive and fresh. Rescuing it from total, generic stagnation. After big budget misfires like Prince of Persia and Day after tomorrow, it's great to see Gyllenhaal bounce back, with his faultless recent entries, as well as stellar back catalogue he is quickly becoming (rightfully so) an actor worthy of such a following. His stunning portrayal's in top class production's, along with his enormous support for the Indie film scene, never compromising his vision for money, is reason enough for such high praise. Joining such visionary peers as Lynch, Cronenberg, Jarmusch, Linklater, Herzog.. true visionaries of the art form, helping ensure it stay's just that, an art form.
Thanks so much for reading and hope to hear any thought's or suggestion's in the comments :)
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