It might be a little too early to fully analyze the career of Jacob Benjamin Gyllenhaal, better know as Jake, but he and his sister Maggie have definitely contributed to the current state of the acting panorama with their steady impressive work, becoming staples in some of the best Hollywood (and independent) offerings. It would seem they have their full acting career all mapped out, which is not a safe bet given today’s changing game rules in the movie business.
Born to director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, his first movie appearance was in City Slickers (1991) at the age of 10 and at 19 he already had his first leading role (and excellent reviews) as Homer Hickman, a coal miner’s son who takes on Rocketry in October Sky (1999) opposite Laura Dern.
His particular facial features, a combination of darkish mischief and boy-next-door, and the unhurried almost child-like rendering of his lines, not as if he were a nerdish intellectual, but more of someone who carefully tests the waters before going in, Jake made an impression in a little psychological thriller named Donnie Darko (2001). This is the kind of role that might have type casted him for years, but his acting interests and skills are wide and varied, taking roles in little dramas like Moonlight Mile (2002) or huge blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and later Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010).
In fact, he was very close to being cast as the title role in Spider-Man 2, due to an injury that Tobey Maguire had suffered before shooting. After his recovery, Tobey went on to reprise his role and both actors ended up sharing the screen in Brothers. Reportedly, Jake has said that many cab drivers still call him “Spider-Man” because of his resemblance to Tobey.
Even if he seems more comfortable in slow burning dramas like Brokeback Mountain, Proof (both from 2005) and Prisoners (2013) or romantic comedies like The Good Girl (2002) and Love & Other Drugs (2010), Jake has experimented in different genres like war films -Jarhead (2005)- and even action/sci-fi –Source Code (2011), and even onstage in the London version of Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth, demonstrating his strength, flexibility and total empathy with both his characters and the communication he opens with the audience.
Having earned an Oscar nomination for his (supporting) role in Brokeback Mountain opposite the late Heath Ledger, Jake has ventured in films with stronger messages like Rendition (2007) Brothers (2009) and End of Watch (2012), leaning towards darker territories in Enemy (2013) and Nightcrawler (2014), which herald his interest in stop being Mr. nice guy and probably taking a real villain part in the future. In all, his performance choices give a pretty picture of his head-On attitude towards society’s relevant issues that are not necessarily PG rated by Hollywood’s standards. His steady walk towards maturity as an actor hasn’t flinched for a second.
Here is a little peek at his already remarkable career:
City Slickers (1991)
Not his breakthrough role, here he stepped in as Billy Cristal’s son in this very successful comedy. It is always interesting to see a child actor making it into an adult career. In his case, being surrounded by film because of his parents, Jake was able to take some small roles in his father’s pictures.
Donnie Darko (2001)
His most iconic role (at least for the cult following this film has generated over the years), Jake takes on the title role of a troubled teenager who escapes a terrible accident, which ignites the continuous visions of a monstrous rabbit, who manipulates him into becoming a killer. Jake’s physicality is perfect for the role, exteriorizing his inner demons that are definitely not for all audiences.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A risky role for him and the late Heath Ledger, his participation in this Ang Lee drama about two modern young cowboys who develop a romantic relationship against society and themselves has proven to be a rewarding and enduring one. With nominations to the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Oscars, as well as winning the British Bafta Award, Jake presented the face of a well-to-do cowboy, married to a rich girl (played by Anne Hathaway) who is not afraid to engage in a gay relationship that will crumble his well-established life (hence the name Jack Twist). For some unknown reason, his character has been regarded as supporting, giving Heath Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar the lead, when in reality both of them are at the same level and create a believable love story that still resonates (they even won Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Award). Both actors were very supportive of the film, and asked about the love scenes, Jake said “As an actor, I think we need to embrace the times we feel most uncomfortable”.
Considered David Fincher’s masterpiece, Zodiac closely follows an investigation to catch a renowned serial killer in San Francisco (who existed in real life), and ends up becoming a loop of procedures with no end in sight. It is a frustrating experience because it does not give the audience the closure a Hollywood film would always provide, especially with the acting caliber involved (Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. Brian Cox, among others). Jake plays Robert Graysmith, a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist that ends up writing two books about the real life Zodiac killer. His personification, along with all the others, feel honest and real, which gives the whole film a powerful center.
This time it was Tobey Maguire who got the attention during award season, with this Jim Sheridan’s remake of Susanne Bier’s 2004’s Danish film of the same name that takes its queues from Homer’s Odyssey and also from French film Le retour de Martin Guerre and the American film Coming Home. In truth, the trio of actors (including Natalie Portman) was impeccable in this romance gone terribly wrong when a man returns from war to find his wife in a relationship with his brother.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
It was time for Jake to become an action hero, and he did with this Disney vehicle that wanted to capitalize on the House of the Mouse success with their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Prince of Persia did not become the franchise it was supposed to spark because of poor reviews and not much interest from American viewers. Jake had prepared for this physically demanding role and demonstrated he could be the next Indiana Jones, with both punch and jokes galore. After that he decided to go back to drama and comedy, where he fares better among the audiences.
Love & Other Drugs (2010)
Time for a romantic comedy. Gyllenhaal teamed up with Hathaway again and both actors have a free-flowing chemistry onscreen that highlights the film’s intention to portray an honest adult romance, even if most of the critics weren’t impressed and box office barely recouped the investment. Both actors received Golden Globe nominations and in retrospect, their performances are comfortable and breathe freshness.
Source Code (2011)
Director Duncan Jones’ follow up to his excellent debut Moon is another excellent sci-fi film, with Jake at its center, playing Captain Colter Stevens, trapped in the same last minutes of his life, which are relived once and again until he can find a terrorist before an attack that changes the future for ever. To give his mission some humanity and a moral center, he starts falling in love with a traveling partner (Michelle Monaghan) and is torn between saving the world or saving the girl. Pretty formulaic premise, but the film is actually very entertaining and well made.
End of Watch (2012)
Jake takes the role of LAPD Officer Brian Taylor to further develop a darker and more demanding streak of roles. This time he bonds with a Latin counter part Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) to confront LA’s criminal forces in this film shot documentary style. The excellent rapport between actors Jake and Michael onscreen and their naturalistic acting styles make the film’s moral core more believable.
“Chaos is order yet undeciphered”, a line taken from José Saramago’s Novel that has been adapted by Javier Gullón for this Denis Villeneuve film. Jake plays a vertiginous dual role of a history professor who runs into his doppelganger and confronts him with psychologically disturbing consequences. The visions of spiders and the mysterious mood that surrounds the film reminds us of Cronenberg’s Nake Lunch, and Jake is successful in conveying an aura of hypnotic normalcy in the face of surreal occurrences. Javier Bardem and were the first options for the role, but it eventually went to Jake and it fits perfectly for his acting showcase.
A role that most actors would kill for, Jake plays Lou Bloom, a hyperactive man who enters the world of nightcrawling: being present in every crime scene to report it with very graphic material which is then sold to TV. Of course, this will push him into degradation and soon he will become part of the same news he is promoting. He and Rene Russo have been praised for their powerful performances and studios are pushing them for 2015 award season. Whether he has the chance to walk the red carpet or not, it is certain that this will be a pivotal performance in his career.