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Entries in Jake Gyllenhaal (4)

Friday
Sep202013

Prisoners

While I can’t speak from firsthand experience, I imagine the greatest fear anyone can have is the potential loss of a child. Nothing must be scarier than knowing that your kid is somewhere out there, perhaps kidnapped by some lunatic, not knowing if he or she is alive or dead. It’s with this notion that we come to this logical conclusion: movies about child abduction are extremely difficult to watch. They emotionally drain you and make you feel a certain kind of despair that is unrivaled in movies with differing stories. This week’s “Prisoners” is no different. It’s not fun, but it’s gripping and, despite some stumbles here and there, it tackles interesting themes that deviate from your typical abduction story. This is definitely one to see.

Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Grace (Maria Bello) are a happily married couple who have two beautiful children, Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and Anna (Erin Gerasimovich). They’re also best friends with a couple who lives nearby, Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis), who also have a couple of children, Eliza (Zoe Borde) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons). While together one day, Joy and Anna wander off. When the parents realize they’re not around, they desperately search and try to find them, to no avail. They quickly enlist the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) to help them find their child. But Keller has his own agenda. Convinced they were abducted by local oddity Alex Jones (Paul Dano), he kidnaps him and tortures him with the hopes that he’ll reveal where the two girls may be.

With that set up, “Prisoners” blurs morality, that line between doing what is necessary and doing what is right. It never necessarily asks the viewer to pick a side, but it makes them understand the desperation in Keller’s actions while also showing them the ugliness that such actions entail. What is morally correct is never in question—clearly he should not be torturing this man—but whether or not his actions are justified will surely split viewers. And that’s the beauty of “Prisoners.” It tackles the complexity of morality while also encompassing a number of other heavy themes, including coping with grief, vigilantism, acting on emotions in the face of doubt and condemning those with absence of proof. When Keller jumps in his truck early in the movie and the man on the radio quotes scripture about how all men are “born of sin,” you’ll quickly realize that “Prisoners” is not going to be an easy watch; it will indeed make you wonder what you would do in the same situation.

Those are the most interesting aspects of the movie, as, unfortunately, the mystery behind who has the children isn’t the most compelling. Too often, objects are focused on so blatantly that their importance is too transparent and given the film’s thematic complexities, the obvious narrative direction was certainly not going to be the one the movie took. Thus, it’s fairly easy to figure out who has the kids. If you’re unable to figure it out, the motive behind this mystery villain is so utterly ridiculous, so ruthlessly absurd, so hilariously asinine that it comes dangerously close to turning an otherwise believable and tense film into a joke, so you may find yourself not caring anyway. Without ruining anything, the finale is such an obvious promotion of religion that if you took the curse words and some of the more egregious violence out of the rest of the film, you could pass it off as Christian. While religious movies are not inherently a bad thing, the angle feels out-of-place, almost like it was plopped in by a writer who wanted to say something about it, but had no idea how.

But while the whole reasoning behind the mystery is laughable, the film is nonetheless exceptionally well made. The understated score brilliantly builds ample amounts of suspense, the direction and cinematography are solid, with establishing shots that, deliberate or not, feel eerily like POV shots, and the majority of the performances are fantastic. While Gyllenhaal’s character is oddly written and portrayed with rapid, violent blinks, Hugh Jackman knocks it out of the park. This is the rawest, most powerful performance he’s ever given, to the point where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him nominated for an Oscar come awards season.

With that said, and despite the good performances, many of the characters are throwaway. Maria Bello’s character is mostly useless after having a nervous breakdown early on, sleeping away the rest of the movie and never doing anything substantial until the end, while the older kids are more or less the same. And even with a runtime of over two and a half hours, certain ideas aren’t fleshed out, though that’s not entirely surprising given the large amount of them on display. What ultimately makes the film work, however, is that the characters, when not sidelined at least, feel like real people. These families are beautifully established very early on, so you’ll care about what happens to those kids not simply because they’re kids, but because you’ve invested yourself in them. “Prisoners” is not the most solid movie in the world, nor is it subtle, but what it lacks in those areas, it makes up for with enough punches to the gut and haunting moments to last a lifetime.

Prisoners receives 4/5

Friday
Apr012011

Source Code

Director Duncan Jones is a talented filmmaker. Last year’s Moon was a terrific little science fiction film that deviated from your standard genre fare. It actually had ideas and wasn’t about endless gunfights with random alien creatures (although those can be fun too, as seen with the recent Battle: Los Angeles). It was a very good movie, but stumbled just enough to fall shy of greatness. His follow-up, Source Code is analytically identical. It comes so close, but thanks in large part to a miscalculated ending, Jones again finds himself just out of reach of achieving something special.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot for the US Army. One day, he inexplicably wakes up on a train sitting across from Christina, played by Michelle Monaghan. He doesn’t know how he got there and is confused that this woman sitting across from him, whom he has never met, is addressing him as Sean. As he attempts to explain to her that he isn’t who she thinks he is, a bomb goes off on the train. Suddenly, he wakes up in a capsule with a video monitor of Sergeant Carol Goodwin, played by Vera Farmiga, who begins to talk to him about the events on the train. Although he doesn’t know how he became involved, he learns that he is a participant in the government’s newest technology, dubbed the Source Code, which allows him to relive through somebody else’s eyes the last eight minutes of their life. His actions in the Source Code don’t change the course of time or the outcome of the event, but if Stevens can find the bomb and figure out who planted it, he may be able to stop further disasters from happening.

Source Code is a movie with its pieces scattered everywhere and intentionally so. Things are purposely vague at first, but as the movie begins to repeat itself, changing little things each time, the puzzle starts to come together. Stevens lives through the same eight minutes each time and as he does, so do you. Like him, you’ll memorize how events will play out in different scenarios and, rather than simply watch him solve the mystery, you’ll become an active sleuth yourself. It almost becomes a game of who can figure it out first, the viewer or the character in the movie?

In these ways, Source Code works the brain, but it doesn’t forget the more visceral senses either and delivers a healthy dose of excitement and action amidst the thought provoking subject matter. Although you eventually become numb to the explosion that inevitably occurs every time you’re on-board that train, it’s the events leading up to it that manage to keep your adrenaline rushing. Because he is told he cannot manipulate the space time continuum and nothing he does to these already deceased people has any consequence, it allows him to do and act as he pleases, which includes holding passengers up at gunpoint and breaking into areas he otherwise wouldn’t go.

Unfortunately, Source Code shoots itself in the foot as the conclusion rolls around. Without giving anything away, it should have ended five minutes sooner, but it instead opts to give audiences the easy ending rather than the tough one. This epilogue goes against the very essence of the film and effectively ruins its chances of garnering any end of the year awards.

Other problems persist, like the underdeveloped romance between Stevens and Christina, but Source Code is nevertheless intricate, tight and, most importantly, not confusing (as long as you’re paying attention, that is). It delivers everything you could ask for in a thriller and refuses to dumb down its subject matter for an audience that would rather be spoon-fed everything. And for that, I commend it.

Source Code receives 4/5

Wednesday
Nov242010

Love & Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs is a movie that goes to show how important casting is. Without the star power of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the film would fall into obscurity never to be heard from again. Their natural charisma and good looks take an otherwise formulaic romantic comedy and make it transcendent.

Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a fast talking, womanizing salesman at a local electronics store. After being caught having sex with the boss’s girlfriend in the backroom, he is fired and ends up grabbing a job as a pharmaceutical rep at Pfizer right before the company had its breakthrough with Viagra in 1998. As a way to work his drugs into the doctor’s office, he bribes his way into an internship with Dr. Knight, played by Hank Azaria. There he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a beautiful 26 year old with Parkinson’s disease, but when he tries to pick her up, as he has countless women before, she calls him out for the game he’s playing. It turns out she can play it too and, despite agreeing to keep their relationship at the casual sex level, Jamie starts to fall for her.

Love & Other Drugs, like most romantic comedies, is predictable. While the smooth dialogue felt fresh, the plot turns did not. You’ll see where the movie is heading from the get go, having mapped it all out in your head well before it ends, but it’s still believable. Their relationship may unfold in a typical fashion, but it’s sweet and you’ll feel the appropriate range of emotions—sadness, happiness, depression, loneliness, fear—because the actors are that good at bringing them forth.

Also like most romantic comedies, Love & Other Drugs is full of contrivances that lead to misunderstandings and arguments that otherwise would have never occurred. Prior to one late scene, Jamie had never questioned the hardships that may come in the future from being with a woman who has Parkinson’s disease. It isn’t until a man at a random Parkinson’s convention details them to him in as grisly a fashion as possible that he starts to wonder.

There are also some romantic comedy clichés, including a late movie race to catch up to a loved one that is followed by a long, overemotional speech, but there’s something about it that works. It takes about half the movie for the sweetness to role in, but when it does it never lets up and it will grab hold of you. To sit here and tell you I didn’t choke up at certain moments in the movie would be a lie. It affected me despite its trifecta of romantic comedy downfalls.

With a supporting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Judy Greer, the aforementioned Hank Azaria and a hilarious performance by Josh Gad as Jamie’s brother, there isn’t a moment where charm isn’t seeping through, but this is still Gyllenhaal’s and Hathaway’s movie. They are in the spotlight and despite noble attempts from its talented supporting cast, it’s never stolen from them. Gyllenhaal is warm and funny while Hathaway is radiant. Their chemistry is magnificent.

While Love & Other Drugs can’t be considered one of the best of the year, it can be considered one of the best in its respective genre. It hits similar pratfalls as its romantic comedy brethren, but it’s funny and heartfelt and in a year lacking movies with similar traits, that is all I could ask for.

Love & Other Drugs receives 4/5

Friday
May282010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Video game movies are no stranger to cinema. Ever since they became popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s, movie studios have been dying to get their greedy little paws on their licenses. Many have been made, but few have been worthy. Some argue none have been. Not a single video game movie ever made sits fresh on the aggregate movie critic score website Rotten Tomatoes. Yet many of those critics aren’t gamers themselves. I am. Not that it means I’m more qualified to judge, but I feel my dabbling in the video game culture has benefited me when looking at some films. Take Hitman for instance, a movie whose central character confused many, but whom I completely understood based on my knowledge of the video games. The latest game adaptation to hit the screens is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and is based on the long running series begun in 1989 and it's a fun romp, regardless of what the naysayers may preach.

In an opening that’s more likely to elicit memories of “Assassin’s Creed” than “Prince of Persia” from gamers, we meet the king of Persia, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who adopts a young boy after his valiant effort to save another kid from soldier cruelty. That young boy grows up to be Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has no wishes for the throne, but only to protect his family and do what is right. A neighboring city, led by Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) is believed to hold weapons and Dastan, along with his friends, infiltrates it and begins the siege. After the victory, Dastan gives the King a customary present, a robe that he immediately puts on. But it’s laced with poison and the King dies right there. Dastan, accused of murder, flees with Tamina and finds himself in possession of a mystical dagger that can turn back time, which could disrupt the very fabric of time and space if put into the wrong hands. He must find out who killed his father while also protecting the dagger.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is dopey and meaningless. It’s a monumentally absurd movie with a nonsensical plot, goofy costumes and laughable dialogue. It’s trashy, but it’s the right kind of trashy. It’s a summer action blockbuster that solidly mixes its campy writing with its high flying action. It’s what last summer’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra tried to be, but failed.

The action, as computer generated as it may have been, is hard to not have fun with. Watching the Prince hop across rooftops to elude capture and slide down a mountain of sand while crumbling structures fall all around him is a blast. The swashbuckling swordplay comes with benefits too. In all its over-the-top glory, the clinks and clanks and flying daggers make for a serviceable distraction from the troublesome story that doesn’t bother with development, but rather says every plot point matter-of-factly so it can move on to the next outlandish action scene.

This amusing stupidity would be for naught without Jake Gyllenhaal, however, who expels just the right amount of charm, wit and good looks to fit the role. He looks like he’s having fun and never seems to take the sometimes flat dramatic story turns too seriously. Couple him with the beautiful Gemma Arteron, who holds her own around the Prince with an even faster tongue and trickier sleight of hand, and you have a hot potato match where the dagger changes possession so many times you may lose track of it yourself.

Saying that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time succeeds on its brainless action and enjoyably stupid plot is faint praise. Even fainter praise would be to say that it’s one of the best video game adaptations ever made. But faint praise is still praise and any at all may come as a shock to many. Maybe it’s because I’m a gamer and have played the games it spawned from, but I liked this movie and if you can get past its faults and find the awesome B-movie hidden underneath, you might like it too.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time receives 3.5/5