[Warning: this piece may contain spoilers!]
Jake Gyllenhaal is a pretty popular name in Hollywood. His career has spanned 25 years, with leading roles in several critically acclaimed films, including "Donnie Darko," "Proof" and "Brokeback Mountain." But with one Academy Award nomination, two Golden Globe nominations and three SAG Award nominations, it begs the question, what's holding the 35-year-old actor back from that big Oscar win?
Is it his stunningly good looks that keep Hollywood from taking him seriously? Is it his choice of roles or scripts? Regardless of what fan theories may be, Gyllenhaal's most recent film, "Nocturnal Animals," explores a new range of mobility for his talents and is bound to spark interest from award-show voters.
Directed by Tom Ford, "Nocturnal Animals" follows Susan (Amy Adams), a gallery owner stuck in a loveless second marriage. When Susan receives a package from her first husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal), she finds the manuscript for a novel he's about to publish, dedicated to her. She begins reading a graphic tale of a man's wife and daughter who are abducted by three thugs during a family road trip.
While Susan reads the novel, titled "Nocturnal Animals," the story unfolds on screen with Gyllenhaal playing the fictional Tony, Isla Fisher playing his wife and Ellie Bamber playing his daughter, with additional excellent performances from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
During periods of time when Susan stops reading, we see flashbacks to her time with Edward, and we soon realize the novel contains several twisted parallels to their marriage.
Gyllenhaal's performance as two different characters gives the film another dimension to its already multi-faceted plot. Through Susan's root in reality, her flashbacks to Edward, Edward and Tony's similarities and the journey through the novel, the film has taken on several different angles, all of which intertwine to create an inventive form of storytelling.
The audience empathizes with Tony and Edward, not only because Tony has suffered a great ordeal with his family, but because they are the same. Throughout the flashbacks to Susan and Edward's relationships, the audience sees that people in Susan's life have labeled Edward as "weak" because of his inability to get his writing career off the ground, while Susan's career is anything but struggling. Edward uses this theme of weakness in his novel to prove to Susan that she and her family are wrong about him, that he is stronger than they think.
Gyllenhaal acts as a visceral hero, a sad underdog with a gripping series of emotions. Tony's will to bring the men who have tortured his family and soul to justice is as needed as Edward's savage revenge novel itself. Despite Gyllenhaal's striking good looks and charismatic innocence, he's able to portray a shell of a man determined to restore his respect and dignity within his reality and the fictional world he's created.
There is a sense of maturity, experience and wisdom behind his acting choices and his performance in this role. While this isn't the first foray into psychological thrillers for Gyllenhaal, it's safe to say this is a one-of-a-kind film that will be a contender for the Academy. Perhaps his first win?
"Nocturnal Animals" opens in wide release Dec. 9. Watch the trailer below!