Jake Gyllenhaal’s life has always been connected to the movie industry. His father is director Stephen Gyllenhaal; his screenwriter mother, Naomi Fonner wrote the Sidney Lumet directed, Running on Empty; and his sister Maggie Gyllenhaal is a star in her own right.
The 32-year-old talent with a mega-watt smile burst on to the scene with the trippy sci-fi thriller, Donnie Darko. The reality bending film depicts the main character trying to find meaning and understanding behind his doomsday visions after a plane crashes into his room. The film starred Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, Katherine Ross, Noah Wylie Mary McDonnell and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Gyllenhaal continued appearing in small indie movies like The Good Girl opposite Jennifer Anniston and Lovely and Amazing. He had his first taste of a big budget action movie with the catastrophic global warming disaster flick,The Day After Tomorrow.
His best performance to date was starring opposite the late Academy Award winner, Heath Ledger in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Gyllenhaal and Ledger played closeted cowboy lovers. The movie was adapted from a 1997 short story of the same name by Annie Proulx and follows the complex emotional and sexual relationship between two men living in Wyoming.
Gyllenhaal is known to constantly switch up his performance for each take and he never does anything the same way twice. This can throw off some of his co-stars and force them to turn in a better performance of their own. How else would you explain the high praise lauded upon those who were fortunate enough to act opposite Gyllenhaal; actors such as Heath Ledger, Jennifer Anniston, Mark Ruffalo, and Tobey McGuire who all turned in some of their best work starring along side him.
It only takes one great movie to launch a career and that’s what Brokeback Mountain did for Gyllenhall’s career; it made the industry take notice of him. The awards, accolades and buzz generated by the film, helped make Gyllenhaal a viable talent with the credentials to match. He seemed destined to be one of those actors who could get any project he wanted.
He followed Brokeback Mountain with the Sam Mendes film, Jarhead. Gyllenhaal played former Marine, Anthony Swofford; a role he received high praise for. The film was adapted from Swofford’s 2003 best-selling book and follows his experiences during the Gulf War.
In an interview in Details magazine, it’s revealed Gyllenhaal’s insistence on changing up his performance has not always been met with praise.
“‘What success really gives you is the freedom to fail and then try again,’ he says. That’s been a trademark throughout his career, for better and/or worse: Gyllenhaal rarely does takes the same way twice, once prompting his Jarhead director, Sam Mendes, to say, ‘He can be a bit of a pain in the ass.’”
Gyllenhaal then appeared in David Fincher’s Zodiac opposite Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. He played a political cartoonist caught up in the hunt for the Zodiac killer. Gyllenhaal followed up Zodiac with Rendition, where he played a CIA agent. The film starred Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep. Next came Jim Sheridan’s Brothers with Toby McGuire and Gyllenhaal playing conflicted siblings. McGuire is a POW returning home traumatized by his experiences and trying to get back his life.
There were some missteps with the video game adapted movie, Prince of Persia and the sci-fi thriller, Source Code. The 2010 romantic dramady, Love and Drugs was the last good movie Gyllenhaal was in. He reunited with his co-star from Brokeback Mountain, Anne Hathaway. The film was based on the non-fiction book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy. He played Jamie, a womanizing and emotionally stunted pharmaceutical rep that falls for Maggie, a free-spirited artist with Parkinson’s disease played by Hathaway.
After seeing the ubiquitous trailer for Gyllenhaal’s next film, End of Watch where he plays a South Central cop, the outlook does not look promising for the talented actor. The question remains, is Gyllenhaal’s best work behind him? I hope not. I don’t know what kind of world we live in where Channing Tatum is having a better career than an actor like Jake Gyllenhaal.
Next up for Gyllenhaal is An Enemy, about a professor who seeks out the look-a-like vain actor after seeing him in a movie. He plays both roles.