Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne
Director: Richard Kelly
Richard Kelly’s directorial debut is about sardonic but likable schoolkid Donnie (Gyllenhaal – “The Good Girl”, “October Sky”, “Highway”) who, during a sleepwalk one night, encounters a far-from-cute bunny rabbit – Frank – who tells him that the world is going to end in less than a month. Because the rabbit has saved his life (he lured from his bed just minutes before a jet engine crashed through the roof and into his room), he feels committed to obeying Frank.
And over the next twenty-eight days, Donnie carries out the various tasks that Frank asks him to do, including setting fire to a local TV celebrities house, flooding his school and vandelising a statue. All the while the clock is ticking and soon he believes his encounters with Frank are real, despite his psychiatrist logically believing them to be delusional. Donnie starts following clues that he thinks will explain everything but can he save the world in time?
With all the components present, “Donnie Darko” should be a revelation. The storyline unfolds at an astonishing rate and as one remarkable mystery after another reveals itself, you are burnt by curiosity, waiting patiently to see how it will all explain itself. And that’s exactly where “Donnie Darko” goes from classic to missed opportunity. It ends up answering nothing, and in fact making no sense at all. Richard Kelly’s original vision may have been exactly that and in a way it is a work of genius that he has achieved it. But a satisfying movie it doesn’t make.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance will catapult him into major stardom in no time. His good looks, sardonic wit and illustration of a determined young man who literally has the weight of the world in his hands, is hard to fault. He gets able support form the reliable Mary McDonnell (“Independence Day”, “Passion Fish”, “Sneakers”, “Grand Canyon”) as his tired but loving mother, and the effervescent Patrick Swayze (“Three Wishes”, “Father Hood”, “City of Joy”, “Dirty Dancing”) in a suprisingly strong turn as the righteous, positive-thinking, local celebrity, Jim Cunningham.
Kelly directs with zeal and the flat, irritating climax should not take away too much from his positive handling of the rest of the movie. Worth watching – but with caution. Don’t believe the hype and you’ll be just fine.