Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most prolific actors working. He has stunned us with countless unforgettable characters time and time again. Ever since his career began in the early 90’s, Gyllenhaal has been on a course with greatness. Utilizing the control he has over his vocal tones, the messages he can deliver with his face and his brute sometimes fragile physicality, he has easily become one of the greatest actors to ever step in front of a camera.
But if Gyllenhaal is so great, why is he rarely recognized? He has only been nominated for a single Oscar in his 20 plus year career. His lone Oscar nomination lies within the supporting actor category for Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.” Now while his performance in this film is stellar, how come he has not been recognized more often? From his subtle and awkward performance in “Zodiac” to his absolutely psychopathic performance in “Nightcrawler”, Gyllenhaal has traveled across all planes of acting and is still finding new and unique roles to challenge himself with.
The first talent that Jake possesses that sets him apart from the rest of the game is the control he has over his vocal tones. Since he has taken his shot at a lot of different characters he has had to use his voice in many unique ways. But what sets him apart from just using a lot of different voices is the control he has over his voice. In a single scene, Gyllenhaal can switch from cool calm and collected to livid and filled with anger. He has the ability to transcend emotions by simply using his voice. While many actors utilize this same skill, they are rarely as powerful as Gyllenhaal. Jake has the ability to completely immerse himself into a character and convince us that we are actually watching Robert Graysmith or Louis Bloom. He is twice as convincing as other actors because of his voice. Through his delivery and inflection, he is able to fully engage the audience into the character he is playing.
Another tool in Gyllenhaal’s toolbox as an actor is his face. Now while all actors are constantly using their face in a scene whether it be through talking in a dialogue scene or simply reaction shots, the face is quite possibly the most important tool for any actor. Some actors strive for the over the top facial acting and some shoot for the almost no facial expressions. Gyllenhaal finds a nice healthy middle within that spectrum. He never seems to be over the top or expressionless but exactly where he needs to be, in terms of whats happening on his face. Not only does he strike certain emotions with his facial expressions but he manages to tell a story simply by using his eyes, mouth, and nose. Look at almost every role he has ever done and you’ll see that it is unmistakably Jake playing each character, they all seem different such as in “Prisoners,” “Jarhead” and “Nocturnal Animals.”
But the cherry on top of Gyllenhaal’s brilliant talents is the use of his physique. Gyllenhaal can be relaxed and in control but also unruly and exciting. There is a certain ambiguity when it comes to Jake’s body because you never know what form you’re gonna get. Are you going to get the reserved and subtle performance such as the one he gave in “Brothers?” Are we going to get the hulking and intense ruggedness of something like “Southpaw?” Or are we going to get the suave and confident stature of something like “Love And Other Drugs?” The possibilities are endless because of how much Jake is willing to adapt to the characters he plays.
While we’re not going to do a ranking of the best Gyllenhaal performances, there are three in particular that are worth mentioning within his filmography that sums up perfectly why we love Jake Gyllenhaal.
Jake has had quite the career but the first highlight in that career is Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko.” It is a wonderful film in a lot of different aspects but it is also for most, the film that introduced the world to Jake Gyllenhaal. Donnie Darko is not only a character that is relaxed and stoic but mad and downright creepy. He converts across the film’s different tones and ideas, shape-shifting his performance and pushing himself to the brink of madness. For a young twenty-year-old, it’s insanely impressive. The film begins with him as the awkward and nerdy kid but as it progresses he slowly begins to change into something else entirely.
Another notable installment within his career is David Fincher’s true-crime masterpiece, “Zodiac.” Gyllenhaal is phenomenal in this film but many people did not notice it at the time. Whether it was his co-stars or Fincher’s direction many people were unable to see the brilliance of what Gyllenhaal was doing in “Zodiac,” as he explored a deep obsession that took the real character he was portraying, years of his life away with no real resolution. He is masterful at playing the caring, nerdy an nervous father. But as the film evolves he slowly begins to move into something that is more obsessive and calculated. By the time the film is over, you recognize how much Robert Greysmith has changed and all of that is due to what Gyllenhaal brought to the role.
While this topic begins to divide many people, there seems to be one clear-cut answer to the greatest Jake Gyllenhaal film. The culmination of everything he has ever strived for as an actor. Not only does he channel everything that makes him unique but he turns all of those talents up to 11. Undoubtedly his greatest performance, Louis Bloom in “Nightcrawler.” Gyllenhaal is not only channeling the obsessive and anxious tics from “Zodiac“, but he’s blowing it out of proportion. He’s not just obsessed and anxious, he’s foaming at the mouth. He will do whatever it takes to achieve what he wants that he is almost something similar to a rabid dog. With his bulging eyes, lean and awkward physicality and precise manner in how he speaks, Louis Bloom is off-putting and completely psychotic. Gyllenhaal’s career more than likely peaked with this performance, that in the aftermath it was only a matter of time before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would come around to recognize his talents with what will most likely be his second Oscar nomination.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest appearance will be in David Gordon Green’s “Stronger” which releases this weekend. In it, he once again demonstrates that he is one of the best actors working today, convincingly playing a young 28-year old whose real-life changed forever when he lost both of his legs in the Boston Marathon Bombing. With such a baity role, the culmination of his career and the work evident on the screen, Jake Gyllenhaal is likely heading for that second Oscar nomination that should’ve belonged to “Nightcrawler” or countless other performances before. Comment in the comments section below and tell us what is your favorite Jake Gyllenhaal performance and/or vote on our weekly poll asking that same question here (Open till Sunday).