Donnie Darko

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes from an upper class home, has loving parents, and attends a private school, but he has become a troubled young man. He has visions of imaginary friends, has become a social recluse, challenges his teachers, and even with the help of his therapist, hasn’t been able to overcome his problems. His parents know he is troubled, but only his therapist knows the details, such as his most frequent friend, one which no one else can see or hear except for Donnie. This friend is Frank, but he is not a normal man, instead he is a giant rabbit with an evil mind. Frank tells Donnie twisted stories and shows him terrible images, tragic scenes from the past and promises of an even darker future. He even informs Donnie of the exact date of when the world will come to an end, down to the second and of course, this influences Donnie’s thoughts & actions. Frank has him to commit various acts of crime, but Donnie is never caught and some kind of good even seems to come them, in most cases. But when time runs out and Donnie faces his true future, what will become of him and will he ever learn who Frank really is?

Donnie Darko is one of the darkest films I’ve seen in a while, in terms of both subject matter and visuals. The film starts off with an almost tragic events and builds from there, with all sorts of events filled with personal failures, tragic turns, and trips inside the mind of Donnie, who has horrific visions of the past & future. As Donnie is our guide through the chain of events, we see what he sees and this makes it hard to know what is truth & what is hallucinations, but it all makes sense once the final credits have rolled, I think. I don’t think this kind of film appeals to everyone, but it deserves a wider audience that it found in theaters, as the subject matter is often dark, but not all the shadows are the bad kind. There is a message in Donnie Darko and it is well delivered, but not in the usual forceful manner, which is a welcome change of pace. I think Richard Kelly’s writing & direction are superb in all respects, as the premise is excellent and the details unfold at just the right pace, never rushed in the least. I don’t want to lessen any of the impact here, so I won’t say much else, but this disc is highly recommended and shouldn’t be missed.

The title role in Donnie Darko is given to Jake Gyllenhaal, who manages to tread the line between intense and over the top very well, much better than expected. This kind of role is often lessened by actors who push too much to come as weird, whereas Gyllenhaal is able to pull it off and rarely steps too far over that line. His range is tested often and he usually handles himself well, but he does slip a little in some scenes, I think. Even so, Gyllenhaal nails the part most of the time and going by his previous work, I never expected him to. I think it speaks volumes about his talent however, as he can now work in both comedic and darker, more dramatic pictures, thanks to his versatile skills. You can also see Gyllenhaal in such films as Bubble Boy, Homegrown, October Sky, City Slickers. The cast here also includes Jena Malone (Life as a House, Cheaters), Drew Barrymore (Charlie’s Angels, Boys on the Side), Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing, Point Break), and Mary McDonnell (Independence Day, Blue Chips).

Video: How does it look?

Donnie Darko is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As this movie is bathed in black hues and darker tones, I was worried about how this transfer would turn out, but Fox has once again delivered the goods. The film’s dark visuals are preserved on all fronts here, as there is no murkiness to be seen and contrast is dead on, very impressive work indeed. I noticed no loss of detail in even the darkest scenes (and some of these scenes are close to pitch black darkness), thanks to razor sharp black levels and shadow depth, without exception. It had to be a nightmare to transfer this film, but Fox has outdone themselves in every regard, this is a stunning and highly impressive visual treatment.

Audio: How does it sound?

I saw this movie in a theater with a minimal sound system, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the included Dolby Digital 5.1 option. The potential was there for great surround presence, but I wondered how much emphasis the filmmakers put into the audio and as it turns out, this is a terrific, immersive presentation. A lot of scenes pack a ton of ambient noise and it can really draw you into the film, which means the atmosphere is eerie and tense, adding a lot to the overall experience. This isn’t the kind of audio that shakes the windows, but it is excellent and really enhances the picture, to be sure. This disc also includes English & French 2.0 surround tracks, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I was pleased to find a nice selection of extras here also, starting off with an audio commentary with director Richard Kelly and star Jake Gyllenhaal. The track blends general behind the scenes talk with some interesting technical information, making it an informative and enjoyable overall session. An additional, hilarious commentary track has stars Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, and Mary McDonnell, and others involved and like the first session, is well worth a listen. The tone here starts off in riotous form and slowly begins to become more serious & informative, but remains humorous and light in tone, on the whole. A series of deleted scenes has also been tacked on here and each one also has optional audio comments, which inform us on why each sequence was trimmed. This disc also includes the Cunning Visions infomercials, an excerpt from The Philosophy of Time Travel, talent files, a Mad World music video, some still photos, five television spots, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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