Donnie Darko (2001)
Director: Richard Kelly
Donnie (Gyllenhaal) is on medication, Donnie sees a shrink, Donnie has visions of a demonic rabbit telling him to do bad things, Donnie falls in love, Donnie sleepwalks, Donnie time travels…Donnie Darko.
I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad, the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had"
- (lyrics from Mad World/ Donnie Darko Soundtrack)
I've been waiting for a long time to see this movie; it sadly never got released in my neck of the woods. It was 4 in the morning when I tossed this baby in my DVD player, the moon was shining through my window, which created an appropriate ambiance, I pressed play and was taken on one hell of a gripping ride.
Set in 1988, "Donnie Darko" is hard to define. Is it a satire? A comedy? A sci-fi flick? A horror film? I don' know. What it is will entirely depend on who you are and what you'll get out of it. The flick does have elements of all genres mentioned but in the end, it's purposely left open for interpretation. From my standpoint, the politics of the time (Dukakis versus Bush) went over my head and even though the flick does have its funny moments (Donnie's witty lines, Donnie's dad) that's not what I remembered once the flick was over. What appealed to me was the central character of Donnie, his honesty, the hardships he goes through, the exploration of the balance between good and evil and the underlying themes of fate and coincidences. I also enjoyed the peeks at the darkness that lies beneath "perfect looking" suburbia, kind of reminded me of "Blue Velvet" there.
The film moves at a very gradual and engrossing pace, delivering mind-numbing visuals along the way (loved "The Abyss" CGI like energy funnels), clever dialogue (the whole Smurf sex thang is whack), a way creepy giant Bunny Rabbit named Frank, a strong musical track, a well used Patrick Swayze (it's about time somebody gives him a good part again) and lots of zany ideas (time travel…nuff said). Most of the main characters are approached from a realistic angle and the solid actors succeed in fleshing them out. I especially relished the touching love story between Donnie (Gyllenhaal) and Gretchen (Malone) and with both performers playing off each other wonderfully, I was entranced every time their tale was brought up. The same can be said about the portrayal of Donnie's family unit, which rang very true. Nice piece of casting there.
My only pet peeves with the flick would have to be the depiction of the school bullies. They looked like they were 30 years old and way too one-dimensional to be credible, especially compared to the 3 dimensional characters around them. Their purpose was also too obvious; they were just there to provoke a crucial plot turn. Making them more human and giving them an added "raison d'etre" would have made them go down smoother. My second qualm with the film is the Drew Barrymore (Karen) character. She gets way too much screen time for what her character brings to the story and Drew's acting is fairly weak. She's only here because she's one of the film's producers (Drew's company Flower Films is one of the producers on the picture).
But overall, "Donnie Darko" was a very gratifying viewing experience. It's an absorbing, well shot, well written and captivating film. There's definitely an aura of sadness here, and even though Donnie's reckless actions and the cap off of the film wind up bringing positivity to the world of the movie, I couldn't help but feel extremely depressed once the credits rolled. Life can be odd and mean, that's what I got out of this. I don't want to say too much, because I really don't want to ruin it for anybody. But if surreal, existential, eerie, character-driven, sad and hallucinogenic films are your bag...Donnie Darko is a must see. Enter this world…
Not much of that here, we do get a dude with a bloody bullet hole through his eye, that’s it.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie) gives a layered and engaging show. He made me forget the abysmal “Bubble Boy” and comes out of this looking great. He’s an actor we should keep an eye on. I predict big things for this dude. Jena Malone (Gretchen) gives a focused and grounded performance as the love interest. I grew very fond of her. Drew Barrymore (Karen) is the weakest link here, she pales in comparison to the better actors around her. Patrick Swayze (Jim) is perfect casting as the self-help guru. Let's give this guy more parts! He’s a solid, underrated actor. Mary McDowell (Rose) brings layers to what could’ve been a one-dimensional part, a sign of a strong actress. Noah Wile (Dr. Monnitof) does what he has to do; I can’t say his character struck me one way or the other though. Holes Osbourne (Eddie) brings a couple of laughs to the picture as the kooky dad.
T & A
None to be found and I didn’t want any.
Kelly serves up an eye-popping visual feast. Think an MTV version of David Lynch. I’m talking about the use of fast motion, slow motion, reverse motion, swooping camera movements, slick angles and a slow but steady pace. I also loved the slick steady cam shots and the attention to detail Kelly brought in regards to the film’s environments. Slap in some nods to “Evil Dead”, "E.T." and Stephen King, and you get a well-rounded directorial debut. The man is obviously a genre fan. You go boy!
The soundtrack is exceptional! The strong score by Michael Andrews is sad, quirky and it fits the flick like a glove. We also get a brilliant use of slick 80’s tunes. My fav being “The Killing Moon” by Echo And The Bunnymen (what a way to open a movie!) and the update of Tears For Fears' “Mad World” by Gary Jules (what a way to cap off a movie!). I gotta get this soundtrack!
Distribution: 20Th Century Fox Entertainment
Release Date: March 19, 2002
IMAGE: The Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) transfer does sport the occasional grain but is overall decent.
SOUND: The English 5.1 Surround serves the film really well, especially when it comes to the kick ass soundtrack. "A" Grade baby! We also get an English and French Dolby Surround option. The subtitles are: English, Spanish.
EXTRAS: The film sports lots of extras; let's see how they hold up.
Commentary with Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal: Here we get an informative and humorous commentary, with Jake being particularly funny. We get insight into everything, from the details behind shooting specific scenes, the inspirations from other films, the meaning of the politics in the film, thoughts on the cast and the many themes brought up. A groovy feature length commentary.
Commentary: Cast and Crew: A bunch of people give their two cents on an almost feature length (beginning is missing) commentary. What they say is interesting but for the life of me how about identifying who the hell is talking! You know...write it down before the commentary or have them state their names for the record. All we here here is a lot of unknown folks rambling. Knowing who they are would have made it more engaging. Was that Drew Barrymore??? I think so…
Deleted Extended Scenes: Here we get 20 deleted or extended scenes with optional director commentary as to why the scene was cut out or cut down. The cut scenes do bring more insight into what the hell is going on in the film…watch them.
Mad World Music Video: Here we get the music video for the very touching “Mad World” performed by Gary Jules. How depressing! The video is directed by Richard Kelly. Good stuff!
Donnie Darko Website Gallery: Here we get some screen captures of the very odd and creative website. Kind of useless but do check out the gnarly website here: http://www.donniedarko.com/
The Soundtrack: Basically an ad for the soundtrack with a “liner note” praising it. How about giving us the damn soundtrack! Again useless.
Cunning Visions: Here we get to check out the funny Jim Cunning (Patrick Swayze) infomercials that are in the film. We also get the option of watching the infomercials with “fake” commentary by Cunning Visions CEO Linda Connie and director Fabian Van Patten. We also get the “His Name is Frank” series of drawing (cute) that are found in the film and the tacky Jim Cunning book covers. Amusing.
Art Gallery: A series of production stills and concept art from the film. The art that was done for the film is particularly impressive.
The Philosophy of time travel: We get to flip through the pages of the “Philosophy Of Time Travel” a book that is found in the film, unfortunately the writing in the book is too small for us to make out and in the end, this extra is cute but useless.
We also get the token Theatrical Trailer/TV spots (1 trailer and 5 spots) and a Cast and Crew information option. Overall the DVD is ok, some of the extras feel like fillers but the film itself and the commentaries make it a must own.
I would compare this film to a dark, ambiguous poem. You won’t understand exactly what’s going on, you’ll probably want a second viewing (I sure do) but you will most likely be touched by the themes brought up, the stunning visuals, the layered characters and the hard hitting dose of sadness that this film serves up. It left me in a reflective mood and rushing for the rum bottle. You’re in the mood for something unique? Meet Donnie Darko.
Richard Kelly also wrote the screenplay for Donnie Darko.
Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) was originally set to play Donnie Darko.
Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays Donnie’s big sister Elisabeth is in real life, Jake Gyllenhaal's big sister.