REVIEW: Donnie Darko (2001)

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2001, Newmarket Films/Pandora Cinema/Flower Films

Director:
Richard Kelly
Producers:
Nancy Juvonen
Adam Fields
Sean McKittrick
Writer:
Richard Kelly
Cinematography:
Steven Poster
Editing:
Sam Bauer
Eric Strand

Cast:
Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko)
Jena Malone (Gretchen Ross)
James Duval (Frank)
Katherine Ross (Dr. Lilian Thurman)
Drew Barrymore (Karen Pomeroy)
Patrick Swayze (Jim Cunningham)
Mary McDonnell (Rose Darko)
Holmes Osborne (Eddie Darko)
Daveigh Chase (Samantha Darko)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Elizabeth Darko)
Noah Wyle (Prof. Kenneth Montinoff)
Seth Rogen (Ricky Danforth)

A very strange tale involving both schizophrenia and science fiction, Richard Kelly’s sleeper film recently was re-released with Jake Gyllenhaal breaking out as the strange titular character.

October 2, 1988. Donnie Darko, a teenager returns home from a bike ride and as always, has a bit of a sibling rivalry with older sister Elizabeth. That night, Donnie envisions a man wearing a bunny suit who goes by the name of Frank. Frank warns Donnie that the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. Undeterred, Donnie goes about his life, yet now, he slowly begins to become influenced by Frank and even informs his therapist, Dr. Thurman, of his new “friend”.

Donnie begins to date new student Gretchen while still falling for the influence of Frank. A series of events lead Donnie to talk to the one man he can trust, science teacher Dr. Montinoff. With the recent events occurring, Donnie begins to wonder if he can somehow travel back in time to where he can stop or reverse these recent terrible events that plague his life. Will Donnie be able to stop himself from being influenced by “Frank” or will in fact, the world truly come to an end?

A mixture of teen angst, insanity, and science fiction, Richard Kelly’s sleeper hit film is truly a trip worth checking out as we delve into the life of our titular character, played excellently by Jake Gyllenhaal. As Donnie, Gyllenhaal delivers a breakout performance that is a plethora of emotions. He goes from angst to insane to even downright psychotic at times. It is clear that Donnie is truly one of the most disturbing titular characters ever seen in a film.

The supporting cast is quite great in this. Jena Malone is the closest for Donnie acting more of a normal teenager as opposed to his insane side in the role of girlfriend Gretchen. Jake’s real sister Maggie Gyllenhaal brings a more natural chemistry in terms of simple sibling rivalry as Donnie’s older sister Elizabeth with The Ring’s Daveigh Chase going 180 from her iconic role a year later in the role of Donnie’s younger sister Samantha, who would get her own spinoff/sequel in 2009 with Chase returning to the role. Drew Barrymore (who also served as executive producer), Patrick Swayze, and Noah Wyle all provide star power in major pivotal roles that mold Donnie’s destiny.

James Duval truly brings the psychosis in the role of the imaginary friend “Frank”. Duval spends most of the film wearing a demented bunny costume with a mask that looks like it will come out of some Easter-themed horror film. He is the reason for Donnie’s eventual downward spiral into insanity as if the kid didn’t have enough problems. Duval truly breaks out as well in the role of this very insane bunnyman.

Donnie Darko is truly a cult classic that melds various genres with breakout performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and James Duval. If you like angst, time travel, insane drama, and a twist ending that will perhaps shock the viewer, then this is worth checking out.

WFG RATING: B+

Arrow Films recently re-released this sleeper hit in a 4K restoration in select theaters. The re-release has both the 121-minute theatrical cut and the 134-minute director’s cut.

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