Donnie Darko (2001)
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Review Date: March 03, 2002
Director: Richard Kelly
Writer: Richard Kelly
Producers: Adam Fields, Sean McKittrick
Jake Gyllenhaal
Jena Malone
Patrick Swayze
Donnie Darko is one messed-up kid. He sleepwalks, he has visions of a giant bunny rabbit telling him what to do and he commits crimes. Is he dreaming? Is he a nice kid who's being used by someone? Is he fucked up because he spent his previous movie shoot in a giant bubble? Many questions, few answers but mucho mystery, creepiness and clues are thrown our way in the actual film.
One fee-yucked up movie. I say again...one fee-yucked up film. And gloomy, too! Cheer up, guy, life ain't so bad! Alright, alright, so that's a stupid thing to say, the movie is obviously not about a happy guy in the first place. Okay, let me get back on track here. This film is yet another journey into the very popular recent realm of "mindfuck" films. Pieces which include MEMENTO, MULHOLLAND DRIVE and VANILLA SKY in 2001, and many others before them. Hints of THE SHINING, HEATHERS and LOST HIGHWAY also make their way into this picture, and yet, even though I am relating this film to several others, it's undoubtedly unique onto its own. If there's one thing that you'll take away from this movie, and that's whether you like it or not (it's definitely an acquired taste), is that it's an extremely creative piece of work. Everything from the camerawork, which is stylistic beyond stylistic, the acting, which is rock solid from all of the majors, the mood, which is dreamy, creepy and happy all at the same time (how does that happen?) and the story, which is certainly nothing that I've seen before, make the film stand out in the pack of generics filling most movie-houses week in and week out.

Now having said that, it's to note that a film being unique does not necessarily make it great (note Gyllenhaal's other 2001 film BUBBLE BOY as an example of a movie that was certainly original in its premise, but lame in execution). This movie does a great job of sticking to its battle plan the whole way through, with a genuine sense of oncoming doom crawling into every scene (good move on the title card inserts as well...it kept the momentum going), but for me, it just didn't give me enough substance to go with all of the goodies all the way through. Sure, the film is more about textures and symbols and clues as to what it's all about, but maybe I just wasn't in the mood to tune into all of the specifics on this night, and found it a little slow and redundant at times. I was never really bored or anything, the funky 80s tunes, amazing camera tricks and visual head-games were enough to keep me going, but it was just a little too melancholic and grim for me at some points, and ultimately started getting me down. As for the ending, when it did finally come together and present us with the "solution" of the master plan, I was surprised at what was delivered, but wasn't entirely clear on how everything fit into play (it's definitely the type of movie that has to be seen twice to truly gestate).

I do, however, want to send some props out to Jake Gyllenhaal who does a tremendous job as the Darko which inhabited Donnie, as well as a special kudo to Mr. Patrick Swayze, taking a small break from the straight-to-video market, with a great little role in this film. Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, had no business being cast as the "teacher", other than the fact that her production company was backing said film. I just didn't buy her in the character for one second and the movie never really did establish any reason for her character to exist in the first place. The film is definitely a great start for writer/director Richard Kelly, who seems to have ingrained many a lesson from two of the top filmmaking visionaries, in David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick (notice the hints of THE SHINING and BLUE VELVET). And how's about that creepy giant rabbit?? Yipes! Overall, I would say that this film definitely won me over with its amazing style, kept me involved to a certain extent with its mysterious story, contained some solid chops from its actors and made me think about fate, coincidences and death a whole lot (if that's what you want to ponder when you watch a movie). It's not for anyone looking for a wham-bam type of movie, because it definitely moves methodically and doesn't hand you an easy answer in its final frame, but if you're looking for a mind-trip or want to drop in on someone's semi-psychotic dream, this crazy bunny-wabbit might just be the treat for you.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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