|Viewers of Donnie Darko need not be fans of comic books in order to enjoy this film. Although the story existed as a comic book once, the film is quite a memorable experience in the theater and is so far off the beaten path that its filmmakers probably have never even seen the path. In the title role, Jake Gyllenhaal makes a strong case as a thoroughly disturbed high school kid who has conversations with a huge demonic bunny rabbit and acquires super-human strength after being nearly wiped from existence by a falling jet engine that destroys his bedroom.|
It is fair to say that Gyllenhaal has no problem playing someone on a regimen of strong psychotropic drugs. His dark demeanor and devil inspired stare are with him throughout the entire run of the film. But he is only one of the very unique characters presented. Though the film has a good dose of humor in it, Mary McDonnell's performance as Rose Darko, Donnie's mother, is by far the most affecting of the film. She is both horribly depressed and quick witted in many of her scenes and shows a wide range of emotions in front of the camera.
On the other side of the spectrum, Jena Malone, playing Jake's love interest "Gretchen Ross," has a more subtle, but no less impressive, run on the screen. And a deftly chosen cast joins her to make a film which would be much more disturbing if there wasn't an element of comedy in it. Patrick Swayze's take as Jim Cunningham, a local author who made millions as a motivational speaker, plays the role so intently, that remembrances of Dirty Dancing never come to mind. Having taken a few feature film missteps in the past decade, Swayze has much more noticeable success in this movie.
And in two smaller, more mysterious roles, Drew Barrymore, who also produced the picture, and Noah Wyle, play two high school teachers who fit perfectly into the weird world that director, Richard Kelly has created. With such a successful cast put in front of the screen, it is worth noting that even though the film is confusing at times, it is still entirely engrossing. To follow exactly what happens to these characters, it might be worth viewing the film more than once.
The reason for this being that on the first viewing, these performances will overshadow completely any intricate mysteries being unfolded in the last thirty minutes or so. The causes and effects of this film are actually cyclical in nature and a close eye is needed to figure out why that giant jet engine falls through the roof of Donnie Darko's house. And in point of fact, theater viewers of this film might have their only complaint because of this very event. Whether or not the film resembles the comic book in its story doesn't really matter.
The soundtrack for Donnie Darko should be singled out as being an element that was elegantly done. The music of the soundtrack's songs and the musical score are molded very well together and one of the final songs seems as though it was the basis for the composer's musical score. This film definitely wasn't a platform for the most popular songs on the radio and the songs picked for the soundtrack blend in well, yet also give the film a proper ambience.
The director has said that financing for the film was very tight and that some of the crewmembers worked for little or no pay. The result of their efforts is an entertaining couple of hours that will stay with an audience longer than many less substantial popcorn flicks. The combination of a unique story and well-done performances make for a film that deserves recognition because of how much was done with so little to start with in the bank. The creativity level during the making of this film was extreme, and in looking at the hard work put into this film, the filmmakers should be proud of the result.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.