Jake Gyllenhaal is (currently) my favourite actor on the planet. Hell, he’s my favourite human being. His ability to not only portray but to convince as both slow burning dark horse and alpha male is unrivalled as it runs deeper than shedding weight and piling on the pounds. What other actor can deliver Jack Twist and Anthony Swafford in the same year?? A funny, likeable character off screen, Gyllenhaal was born into a privileged and talented pool but scratch beneath the surface and you find a young man desperate to better his craft and reflect on anybody within his grasp. With barely a note out of place on an impressive CV (c’mon, Prince of Persia is a hoot!), this was the toughest countdown of an actor I have attempted so far – any of the top six were in with a shot…
- The Day After Tomorrow – Sam Hall (2004 Dir. Roland Emmerich)
Disaster master (I use the term loosely) Roland Emmerich turned his sights to the controversy over global warming for this cli-fi thriller (I’m going for climate-fiction there), casting Gyllenhaal as the son of leading scientist Dennis Quad. Adrift in New York for some brain box competition or other, the young Sam Hall steps into gear when disaster strikes. Only three years on from Donnie Darko, a more mature Gyllenhaal breathes life and charm into the underdog character, outshining the heavyweights supporting him.
- Source Code – Colter Stevens (2011 Dir. Duncan Jones)
In my humble opinion, the twisting premise of this sci-fi thriller is great right up to about three minutes from the end. Injured on the battlefield but awaking amidst the downtown commuters of Chicago, Capt Colter Stevens is doomed to repeat the last eight minutes of another mans life thanks to the Governments latest secret weapon in the war on terrorism. Equally adept as battlefield general and meekish commuter, Gyllenhaal’s everyman charm and depth of range lifts this relatively two dimensional character off the page.
- Enemy – Adam Bell & Anthony Claire (2015 Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
His first collaboration with Villeneuve, this head trip has Gyllenhaal rocking it as both leading man and supporting cast! Bouncing between dark and light, the dual personalities creep up on you and it is not until the credits role that you take stock of the brilliant performance you have just witnessed. You don’t need to get inside their heads to get inside this movie.
- Brokeback Mountain – Jack Twist (2005 Dir. Ang Lee)
Depending on your disposition, this movie may very well occupy your top spot based on the gravitas and seriousness of the subject matter. A story such as this demanded performances above and beyond and boy did Ledger and Gyllenhaal deliver. Widespread questioning of his sexuality after the films release is testament to this powerfully tender performance.
- Nightcrawler – Louis ‘Lou’ Bloom (2014 Dir. Dan Gilroy)
Written and directed by debutant Gilroy, Nightcrawler is the most recent entry on the list and shines a light on the seedy nourish activities of LA freelance photographers hawking their nightmarish wares to the local news agencies. Gyllenhaal’s transformation into sunken eyed, rake thin, vampiric Lou Bloom renders the actor borderline unrecognisable and his understated ambiguous performance of dark intellect and simmering malice is a splendour to behold.
- End of Watch – Brian Taylor (2012 Dir. David Ayer)
There are two elements to love about this take on the buddy cop movie with an edge – the story and the relationships. LAPD officers Brian Taylor and Miguel Zavala (Gyllenhaal and Pena) crackle off one another in what must be semi-improvised scenes which lends weight to the emotional finale. The juxtaposition of their home lives and deathly serious work is masterfully handled and if it wasn’t for the gimmicky handheld pov, End of Watch would certainly feature higher. And it ranks sixth highest on the all time f-bomb list!
- Zodiac – Robert Graysmith (2007 Dir. David Fincher)
Young San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist come investigative writer Robert Graysmith is a perfect fit for Gyllenhaal – underestimated intellect, observant and concise. The dark and mysterious subject matter is fascinating and despite knowing the outcome of this story, you’re hanging on every insight into the case, following Gyllenhaals spiral into an all consuming pit of obsessive career suicide. Personally, I believe Graysmith uncovered the identity of the zodiac killer but there’s no need to form an opinion to enjoy David Fincher’s adaptation.
- Jarhead – Anthony Swofford (2005 Dir. Sam Mendes)
Jake Gyllenhaal has gone on record to state this was his favourite ever experience on a movie set, revelling in Mendes’ directorial stylings and the evidence is on the screen. A war movie without the war, it takes a deft hand to render humour found in the mundanity of war when the battle never actually arrives. Looking at his physical peak as Marine Sniper Anthony Swofford, we’re on board with this potential fish out of water, just waiting for the enemy to enter his cross hairs.
- Donnie Darko – Donnie Darko (2001 Dir. Richard Kelly)
The end of the world is nigh and the young Donnie Darko is being visited by a large bunny called Frank. This doomsday sci-fi cult smash could have type cast Gyllenhaal as the creepy, edgy outsider but it was just a stripped and pure performance from a great young actor. Who else could keep this outcast likeable as he struggles with the burden of his visions and the visits of his nocturnal friend? What is this film really all about… Who cares? It’s a mad world.
- Prisoners – David Loki (2013 Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
In a movie where the mighty Hugh Jackman turns in a performance of his lifetime and the weather should have received a best supporting actor nomination, Jake Gyllenhaal needed to bring it to even be remembered in his second collaboration with director to keep an eye on, Denis Villeneuve. Detective Loki is Gyllenhaal at his coolest. Fitted shirts, buttoned collar, slick back hair – he’s the ultimate hip loner, sent to frustrate his colleagues. Tonally oppressive throughout, Gyllenhaal improvised Loki’s twitch to provide the audience with a physical sign that despite the sombre silent moments, he is always thinking. The perfect foil to Jackman’s explosive rage, Gyllenhaal plays it contained and clinical and draws the audience in. The result? You’re rooting for him to crack the case more so than the father to find his missing daughter. Outstanding.
The immediate future looks bright for Jake Gyllenhaal with Southpaw and Everest both due in cinemas this year and both looking likeable new entries to a future top ten countdown. To find out more about Gyllenhaal the man, check out his episode of the brilliant Inside The Actors Studio…
What would be your Jake Gyllenhaal number one performance? Or are there any glaring omissions from our top ten? Let us know by leaving a comment below! We’d love to hear your thoughts…
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