Today is Jake Gyllenhaal’s 36th birthday, which seemed as good a time as any to reflect on his body of work. I’ve always liked Gyllenhaal, but it’s only been relatively recently that his mere association with a project is enough for me to automatically be interested. On top of being a fairly versatile actor, he also comes off as very affable. Whether that is actually true, I have no idea, but he gives off the vibes of a nice guy. It helps, at least for me, that he’s a New Yorker; anyone who loves the City as much as I do and chooses to live there gets a boost in my book.
In preparing for this post I skimmed Gyllenhaal’s IMDB page and I was surprised by two things: he only has 40 acting credits and I have seen far fewer Jake Gyllenhaal movies than I would have anticipated. On the first point, it feels like his career to date has been much more prolific than 40 credits; I’m pretty sure that The Rock has 40 credits just from the last two years. Gyllenhaal feels like a guy that should have been in more things at this point, but at least there aren’t a ton of clunkers in the bunch. Everyone has a few credits that they probably aren’t as proud of, but Gyllenhaal seems to have put together a solid résumé. Quality over quantity, I guess.
There are also a lot of Jake Gyllenhaal projects that I haven’t seen but that are on my list; I assume some time in the near future I’ll check out End of Watch and Southpaw and his newest film, Nocturnal Animals, is high on my priority list. I may have to have a Jake Gyllenhaal movie marathon during the holidays. There are worse ways to spend an evening.
So as a tribute to him on his birthday, here are some of my favorite Jake Gyllenhaal performances. And no, Donnie Darko doesn’t make the list because I do not understand that movie at all.
I am still mad that this movie lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to that piece of trash Crash, but this was the movie when I fully realized what Jake Gyllenhaal was capable of as an actor. He and Heath Ledger were so good in this movie and gave such nuanced, restrained performances. It’s a beautiful movie with beautiful acting. And I always respected them both for taking on the roles of Ennis and Jack; 2005 isn’t that long ago, but it is light years ago in how this country as a whole viewed homosexuality. There was (sadly) the potential for professional risk for both young actors. I don’t know if Brokeback Mountain changed a lot minds, but it did expose mainstream audiences a very different sort of love story.
This drama about the lengths that a father will go to when his child is abducted is not necessarily an easy watch, but is anchored by the strong lead performances of Hugh Jackman as the father and Gyllenhaal as the obsessive detective assigned to the case. While outwardly Detective Loki is fairly stoic and controlled, Gyllenhaal expertly shows the signs of the internal struggle waging within the man as he struggles to solve the case and internalizes all its failures. When Loki finally does explode, it is well-earned, thanks to the subtle work that Gyllenhaal is doing throughout the movie. While Jackman’s role is the flashier of the two, Gyllenhaal provides an important and necessary counterbalance to the actions of a grieving father. You may sympathize with Jackman, but Gyllenhaal is the true moral voice of the movie. A great performance that I don’t think gets enough attention.
Gyllenhaal received a lot of attention for his role of a sociopath that sells footage of crimes to local news stations, as he should have. Gyllenhaal changed his appearance fairly drastically, becoming a wiry guy with slicked back hair and eyes that bug out of his head. As impressive as the physical changes were, he matched them in his performance of the weird and creepy Louis Bloom; as the movie unfolds, there are more and more layers to the character. There is an intensity to the character and you really can’t look away from Gyllenhaal’s performance, which is fitting because his character rarely blinks or looks away from anyone. As I said in my initial review, this was the role that Gyllenhaal was waiting for to prove what he can do. Unlike many of his other movies, Gyllenhaal is not part of an ensemble or playing the second lead. Nightcrawler is his movie and lives and dies on his performance; its success is a testament to his skill as an actor.
Little Shop of Horrors
Curiosity was a driving force in my decision to see Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors at the New York City Center; Gyllenhaal had established that he can play a lot of different roles, but I didn’t know if musical theater was one of the arrows in his quiver. I had sadly missed him on stage during his Broadway run in Constellations, but that was a drama. Could hunky Gyllenhaal transform himself into nerdy Seymour Krelborn, complete with singing and comedy? It turns out that the answer was a resounding yes and I really enjoyed his performance in a musical that holds a special place in my heart. He seamlessly stepped into the world of musicals and when I saw him this year in Sundays in the Park with George I knew he’d hit it out of the park.
Homicide: Life on the Streets
This is an oldie but a goodie and while Gyllenhaal was a child when he made a guest appearance on one of my favorite series, Homicide: Life on the Streets, he picked one of the best episodes of the series as one of his earliest acting credits. In the episode, Gyllenhaal and his family (including Robin Williams as his father) are tourists in Baltimore and his mother is killed in a robbery. Gyllenhaal’s role is pretty small, but I’ll take any chance that I can to remind people to seek out this show. It’s so incredibly good.
Honorable mention: Mystery Show podcast, Source Code episode – This podcast (RIP) was one of my favorite podcast of 2015 and one particularly fun episode focused on solving the mystery of how tall Jake Gyllenhaal actually is. Sounds like an easy mystery to solve, but you’d be surprised. Gyllenhaal does make an appearance on the podcast and it really solidifies all the good things that I think about him as a person. It’s an amusing episode and worth a listen. Jake and host Sarlee Kine also dropped by Conan to discuss the mystery.
What are your favorite Jake Gyllenhaal performances? Do you think that he is underrated, overrated, or gets just the right amount of praise? Sound off in the comments section.