Without any awards to show for it, Jake Gyllenhaal has quietly transformed himself into one of the gutsiest and most consistent actors in the business. As you will notice, three out of five of Gyllenhaal’s performances on my list occurred within the past three years. Evidently, he has been progressively tackling more and more complex characters with each role, while in return portraying these characters more and more efficiently in each instance. As the chilling lead character in director Dan Gilroy’s new film Nightcrawler, there is no doubt that this trend has continued in full effect. That being said, I strongly believe that we have yet to see the best work from an already extraordinary career.
5) “Donnie Darko” ( 2001)
Portraying the iconic titular character in one of the most popular cult films of the millennium, Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko will not be forgotten for a very long time. . It is simply the sort of rebellious character that appeals to teenagers everywhere. Of course, this appeal would be non-existent if Gyllenhaal had not turned in such a convincing performance. Moreover, I cannot say I recall a character that is more vulgar and challenging to authority than Donnie Darko. For that, Gyllenhaal’s performance will be quoted for years to come. Quotes that I am probably not allowed to repeat here…
4) “Zodiac” (2007)
Being casted as the lead in a David Fincher film in itself is quite an impressive accomplishment. Obviously, however, this not what lands Gyllenhaal’s portrayal as real-life figure Robert Graymith on this list. Faced with the task of playing this neurotic San Francisco Chronicle political cartoonist who decides to devote his time to solving the Zodiac killer mystery, Gyllenhaal decisively pulls off the nerdy and obsessive persona that Robert actually exhibited in the never-ending search of Zodiac. The sort of determination and drive that radiates from this character is most likely not far from Gyllenhaal’s actual preparation for such a quality role.
3) “Prisoners” (2013)
Within my pick as the most underrated film of 2013, “Prisoners,” Glyellenhaal plays Detective Loki, a man struggling to keep his cool under the pressure of finding two missing girls. Supporting another incredible performance by Hugh Jackman, Gyllenhaal is forced to deal with a father that will disregard law and truly do anything to find his daughter. It is a bizarre circumstance for Loki, one that he was surely never adequately trained to deal with. What fascinated me most about this performance is how something as slight as a reoccurring twitch can reveal more about character than a monologue ever could.
2) “End of Watch” (2012)
I can vividly remember watching a preview for “End of Watch” and rolling my eyes at how much it seemed to embody a typical “buddy-cop” movie. Luckily, I could not have been more off. Not until after I was forcefully proven wrong did I research the making of the film, realizing the unbelievably risky lengths Jake Gyllenhaal went through to get into character. For example, upon his first life-altering ride-along, he was incognito in the back of an LAPD patrol car and observing protocol on the midnight shift. An emergency call came through announcing that a drugs bust had gone wrong. When they arrived to the scene, Gyllenhaal opened his door, and a man was shot dead in front of him. He still had five more months of ride-alongs still to go.
1) “Nightcrawler” (2014 )
After accepting the controversial role in Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Gyllenhaal proved his investment to the film by dropping over twenty pounds before production commenced. As Lou Bloom, a manic L.A. cameraman who desperately attempts to obtain success at any cost (and I mean any cost) this investment payed off beyond all expectations. I must admit, I may be biased since my viewing of “Nightcrawler” was easily the best experience I have ever had in a cinema. Right before the screening went underway, Gyllenhaal surprised our student audience by randomly introducing himself and happily taking as many selfies as he could. Thinking back now, the fact that such a genuinely kind man could somehow pulled off one of the most psychotic and twisted anti-hero’s in recent times is remarkable. Unfortunately, sharing a year with other brilliant lead actor performances from Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Eddie Redmayne (“Theory of Everything”), and Steve Carrell (“Foxcatcher”), it is very possible that Gyllenhaal’s career-defining work might not be nominated at any major award ceremonies. Even if this ends up being the case, you can bet that Gyllenhaal will take a note from his latest character by relentlessly improving upon his already colossal success.
By Harrison Jeffs