With Jake Gyllenhaal now a bona fide leading man, it’s hard to square the actor with the pallid teen who shot to prominence in the title role of director Richard Kelly’s calling-card psychodrama Donnie Darko. Kelly brings a confident, compellingly Lynchean sense of darkness and fantasy to his 1980s-set tale of the troubled Donnie, who discovers the exact date and time of the end of the world after a visitation by a sinister giant rabbit. Things get weirder from there on, but it’s played largely straight (except perhaps for Patrick Swayze’s camp motivational speaker, easily the best role of his post-Ghost career) and gets under your skin. There’s a grown-up performance from Drew Barrymore as Donnie’s teacher, and also an urbane, Anglophile soundtrack, which moves from Echo & the Bunnymen and Joy Division to the minimalist cover version of Tears for Fears hit Mad World that topped the UK charts at Christmas in 2003. Sadly, Kelly has yet to match his debut.
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