Donnie Darko

Movie Review by EDF

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Beth Grant
Director: Richard Kelly

In a small town somewhere just left off the David Lynch turnpike, you will find Richard Kelly, writer and director of what is probably one of the best movies to hit the UK screens this year. Why it has taken a long time for DONNIE DARKO to cross the Atlantic is as mysterious as this fantastic movie.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) has problems, he sleepwalks and it looks like his medication is not having any effect. However on midnight October 2 1988, a voice leads a sleeping Donnie outside where he is told by Frank, dressed in a rabbit suit, that in 28 days, 6 hours 42 minutes and 12 seconds the world will end.

Waking up the next morning on the local golf course, Donnie makes his way back to his house where he finds that an airplane engine has crashed through Donnie’s bedroom. The strange thing is that the authorities do not know where it came from or what happened to the plane. Donnie returns to his school where he finds himself to be a bit of a minor celebrity. What director Richard Kelly produces next is a brilliant introduction to the rest of the characters in the movie inter cut to the music of Tears For Fears’ HEAD OVER HEELS.

We are introduced to Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), the English Literature teacher whose choice of reading material for the students is questioned by Beth Farmer who views the material as pornography. Mrs Farmer herself tries to teach her students the difference between right and wrong, aided by videos from the local self-help guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). She believes in only two aspects of what she calls the life line – fear and love. Donnie questions the validity of the life line as it ignores other aspects of human emotion. His point of view gets him into trouble with the school authorities.

A few nights later, Frank causes Donnie to vandalise the water pipes at his school. The next morning, the students find the school has been shut. Unaware of his actions from the night before, Donnie walks home from school and comes across Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), the new girl in his English class. He walks her home where Donnie stumbles through his attempt to ask her if she would go out with him. She accepts.

Donnie confides in his psychiatrist Dr Lilian Thurman (Katharine Ross) who, running out of options, hypnotises him to figure out why he sleepwalks. Donnie feels that there is a strange purpose to his life and, despite the fact that he believes his actions to be just, he finds himself losing faith. Dr Thurman does her best to lead Donnie on the right path but what is the strange connection between Frank, time travel and the reclusive Mrs Roberta Sparrow, who the locals call Grandma Death?

There will be some people who will notice that there is a message being conveyed. One of those is that through divine intervention of his surviving the accident, Donnie unconsciously rights the wrongs of those around him of which others will persecute him for. While the likes of Beth Farmer who is forever preaching what is right and wrong and thus alienating everyone around her, Donnie’s extreme methods prove how those who shroud themselves in light have dark secrets that they assume are well hidden to those around them.

The director cleverly approaches his script by assuming the audience has a brain in their head and doesn’t over-explain everything. Sharp editing with the clever use of slow and fast motions gives the movie a David Lynch type. With an engaging performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and inspired choice of support from Mary McDonnell, Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze, this movie is solid throughout. While this is on a different level to the MTV generation type of movie such as FINAL DESTINATION, this is as fresh and familiar at the same time as anything else you are likely to see this year. One of the must see movies of the year.

6 out of 6 stars

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