Dissecting Jake Gyllenhaal!

Last Updated on August 2, 2021


Don't look now, but Jake Gyllenhaal has become, over the last decade or so, one of the most daringly diverse actors around. Dude's on an absolute cinematic murder-spree! Never mind the nepotistic upbringing – son of DP Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner (godson of Jamie Lee Curtis and Paul Newman) – ever since turning heads with his breakout role in OCTOBER SKY back in 2001, dude's only gotten better and better…welcoming dark, uncompromisingly risky material, challenging both himself and audiences alike with a varied roster of impressive performances. Seriously, think of his genre run since 2001, which includes a wide array of cool flicks like DONNIE DARKO, HIGHWAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, ZODIAC, BROTHERS, SOURCE CODE, END OF WATCH, PRISONERS, ENEMY, and of course, his most recently haunting, Golden Globe nominated turn as Lou Bloom in NIGHTCRAWLER. That's a hell of a run!

And you know what? At under 35 years of age, dude's ascent has only just begun. I know people like to talk about Matthew McConaughey's resurgent "McConaissance," but as you'll see below, Gyllenhall has been just as consistent in reinventing his post-PRINCE OF PERSIA image. What, you're not seeing it? Oh you will once you peer into the scope. Ladies, gents…let us Dissect Jake Gyllenhaal's impressive genre career to date!



I love DONNIE DARKO. Still have the poster on my wall. Looking at it now. Even a wrote a long ass paper on it in school once. Love it. And I'm quite certain that the primary reason for such is the precocious turn from JG as the deeply troubled titular antihero – a soul beyond his years, a wonder beyond his time, yet with a body wracked with adolescent angst. A lethal f*cking combo. Such an odd, hypnotic and Amblin-esque mélange of Spielbergian sci-fi, John Hughes humor and dreamy Lynchian surrealism. Sure, the overall mysterious charm of the film was a bit sullied by Richard Kelly's lamely overexposed director's cut, but that doesn't alter how good a performance Gyllenhaal lent in either version. He plays a tortured, mischievous teenage messiah to a T, and really serves as the emotional core of an otherwise deeply convoluted story. Real shite, without Gyllenhaal's spellbinding turn as DONNIE, the film would likely resemble the head-scratching jumble of S. DARKO.


But for my money, Gyllenhaal's turn as Louis Bloom in last year's NIGHTCRAWLER is his absolute tour de force. It's a rapacious surge of manic energy that you simply cannot look away from. It's impossible to. Physically gaunt yet ambitiously swollen, Lou Bloom is a capitalistic scavenger, a vulpine sociopath operating in a nocturnal subculture of LA's underbelly.If you've yet to see it, you have no excuse not to go out and see it ASAP, as it was truly one of the best flicks to come out last year. Bloom carves an amoral niche as a Nightcrawler, a freelance videographer who films harrowing crime scenes before the news stations arrive. He then sells the salacious material to the local news, headed by Renee Russo. But as Lou finds he's good at his job, he begins to manipulate crime-scenes and his partner Rick for financial gain…and proves to be a self-made business man, no matter the cost. We can't urge you to peep this one soon or often enough. Gyllenhaal soars as a bug-eyed, motor-mouthed spiv doing all he can to survive the harsh realities of an unforgiving capital-driven society. Can you blame him?



A big dumb FX-driven guilty pleasure at best, a soulless and lame-brain Hollywood tentpole at worst…I'll opine and say Roland Emmerich's THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is, if not the weakest, certainly Gyllenhaal's most ludicrously plotted genre flick (well, after PRINCE OF PERSIA of course, but the least said about that the better). Yikes! What laughable pabulum. But then again, what else do you expect from an Emmerich flick? Actually, doesn't Roland stand for Robust-Overstuffed-Ludicrous-And-Nonsensical-Disaster? Yeah well if not, it should!

Oh I jape and jest, because to be honest, don't we all sort of enjoy the so-stupid-it's-good entertainment value THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW brings?! And while hilariously hyperbolic, I'm definitely behind the climate science the movie is trying to express. To boot, the VFX are actually pretty astounding, regardless of how you feel about the artifice of CGI. Still, even if Gyllenhaal acquits himself just fine in the flick, it's the kind of bloated Hollywood cookie-cutter mega-spectacle he rarely seems to partake in. The kind that, since PRINCE OF PERSIA, he's seemed to consciously steer clear of. And yup, we're grateful!



Not sure how you'd characterize Gyllenhaal's go-to method of working, but it seems pretty clear that the dude is constantly gravitated toward dark, offbeat, uncompromising leading men. Sure he strayed a bit in 2010, going the big-budget studio route with the ungodly PRINCE OF PERSIA and saccharine LOVE & OTHER DRUGS, but by and large, his career's been all about the challenge of playing complex, three-dimensional characters. People that feel real, with shades and colors that we all recognize and empathize with.

There's also a bit of an investigative nature to many roles Jake has played – be it in ZODIAC as an over-his-head cartoonist, or in PRISONERS as an out-and-out police detective. Hell, even in movies like SOURCE CODE where he must piece together the correct formula in order to survive or a torturously recurring fatality on a futuristic train – or his latest, NIGHTCRAWLER, where he literally investigates breaking crime-scenes before the actual news stations can…it seems Gyllenhaal has a curiosity for the curious that shows up time and time again in his work. We get the feeling that exhaustive preparation and research, then, are perhaps just as important as anything Gyllenhaal does once agreeing to a part. You get the sense he gives a great deal of consideration to things that are often left offscreen, and how such subtleties are just as informative to the ones that are on.



I feel like we've professed our undying love for ZODIAC around here a lot lately, but never so much for the centerpiece of the entire narrative, Gyllenhaal's performance as dogged cartoonist Robert Graysmith. I'll just briefly say, before moving on to the two Denis Villenueve collaborations, that playing such a key cog in a huge colorful ensemble like in ZODIAC is damn hard to do. Never mind playing a real life character, but to hold the picture together as the lynchpin of the whole movie, more or less playing the straight guy (in SF no less, hey now!) who encounters a cache of eccentric characters, that would seem awfully difficult. But no doubt, it's a strong performance in a great movie, and more, sort of marks this transition into really dark, interesting material that Gyllenhaal is now fully ensconced in. Witness exhibits B and C…the two movies he made in 2013, PRISONERS and ENEMY.

PRISONERS is a knockout crime picture with a wonderfully deliberate pace that takes its time to tell its story. Jake plays Detective Loki, a biblically metaphoric character who we know has a troubled past that he's trying to work through as he searches for High Jackman's missing little girl (and her friend). What's great here is how, since the movie becomes a sort of whodunit, Gyllenhaal is able to ride the wave of compassion for the missing, skepticism of their parents, and even his own guilt of perpetrating the crimes himself. It's a delicate balance indeed. He's also a flawed character in an authoritative position that can't afford to be. Which brings me to the final shot of the film? Spoilers Spoilers…do you think Loki heard that damn whistle and was poised for a rescue? At first blush I think yes. But after re-watching the film and seeing how wrong Loki is in a number of instances, his instincts off…I'm not so sure. A brilliant movie.

Get ENEMY Here

And speaking of brilliant, you all see ENEMY, in which Gyllenhaal plays dual roles in a movie also made with Canadian director Denis Villenueve? If not, do so stat, this is one hell of a psychological thriller! The set up is simple but hauntingly effective under Gyllenhaal and Villenueve's care. The former plays a somewhat malcontent history professor going through daily rigors of everyday life, but all that changes when he rents a flick and thinks he spots himself playing a role. He becomes compulsively obsessed with finding out who the guy is and tracking him down in person in order to find answers. I'll let you discover what happens when he does finally find his more refined doppelganger, but for real, we haven't seen Gyllenhaal like this before. His identical alters become more and more interlaced as the film twists and knots, each finding the other a dangerous threat of sorts until the bone-curdling final shot. See this f*cking movie!


Unfortunately, after a squeezing every juicy drop of delicious pulp material in the last few years, Gyllenhaal's genre run has began to dry up a bit. Now that doesn't mean his next few flicks won't feature gritty, physically grueling performances…quite the contrary in fact…it's just that they aren't as out-and-out horrific on the surface as ones in recent past. That said, one of the most admirable things about Jake's career lately is his bold choice of projects, and by that rationale, we should expect very good things regarding two particular upcoming flicks. Seriously, what y'all know about EVEREST and SOUTHPAW?

The SOUTHPAW trailer landed last Friday, you get a chance to peep it? Well it comes from TRAINING DAY director Antoine Fuqua, and clearly features JG as hulking, physically transformed pugilist whose greatest enemy just might be his own inner demons. Looks like Jake will take on, in addition to a number of prizefights, the internal battle of addiction in this gritty rise-and-fall-and-rise-again tale of redemption. I know boxing flicks have been done to death, but really, look how f*cking badass Gyllenhaal looks here. I have faith he, Fuqua and writers Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy, The Shield) and Richard Wenk (Dick Wenk???) will deliver a knockout!

With Forrest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson and 50 Cent – SOUTHPAW hits the ring on July 31, 2015.

The other 2015 Gyllenhaal flick worthy of mention is EVEREST, a star-studded natural disaster flick that has every legit chance of being what THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW should have been. The premise is a simple yet high-concept one: a climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm.

A lot of leeway there, but I fully expect Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (JAR CITY, 2 GUNS) and screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 27 HOURS) and Lem Dobbs (DARK CITY, THE LIMEY) to give us an epically visceral thrill-ride. Joining Gyllenhaal is an impressive ensemble including Robin Wright, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, and many more.

EVEREST is open for business on September 18, 2015.



Point blank, we're absolutely loving the ferocious genre blitz Gyllenhaal's been rushing with the last few years. Actually, the dude has stacked one solid turn after another since about 2005 (fuck 2010!), and seems to only want to continue to up the ante with each passing year. From the early promise of shite like DONNIE DARKO, HIGHWAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, etc…and evolving to even darker, danker and more mature pickings like ZODIAC, BROTHERS, SOURCE CODE, END OF WATCH, PRISONERS, ENEMY and most recently NIGHTCRAWLER…what we're seeing is the fine aging and delicate growth of a boy into a motherf*cking man. We're witnessing it onscreen. As the years come, so does the wisdom, and it's clear we're seeing the natural evolution of a young actor into a seasoned vet…one unafraid to take on flawed and redeeming characters and make them feel authentic. Will he reach the summit in EVEREST? Land a knockout in SOUTHPAW? We see you Jake, keep it up son!

Source: AITH

About the Author

5376 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.