Donnie Darko (DVD, 2005, Sensormatic) Reviews
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Donnie Darko (DVD, 2005, Sensormatic)

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Donnie Darko: One Weird Guy and His Pet Rabbit

Jul 16, 2002 (Updated Jul 22, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Interesting independent film with an eerie edge.

Cons:Confusing in the end, low production values.

The Bottom Line: A crazy weird movie about a crazy weird guy who meets a crazy weird rabbit 28 days before the world ends. Crazy!


Donnie Darko is a very weird high school student - and that's meant as a complement. He's not crazy per se, but many of his actions are crazy, many of his thoughts are crazy, and exactly who or what his imaginary friend is, is well, crazy. As is the case with any such fellow, hes mainly heavily medicated and gets increasingly worse whenever he goes off his medication. In fact, the only time he's at peace is during his weekly visits to his psychologist.

When he's not at peace - well, things get a tad...crazy...and weird.

The movie begins with Donnie lying down in the middle of a road, appearing to be dead. As the camera tracks in - Donnie stands up from his slumber and begins to ride his bike home. Loud late 80's music blares in the background until he walks in the front door. It is 1988 - during the Dukakis/Bush race for the Presidency. Donnie seems to come from the standard family; loving parents, older sister just ready for a debate (Jake Gyllenhaal's real life sister), and a younger sister just entering her bratty/curiosity phase. As is the case with much of the movie Donnie/Jake Gyllenhaal keeps a sinister smile and his eyes squinted like he's either about to fall asleep or go on a violent rampage.

Once the pleasantries are taken care of Donnie goes to bed only to be woken up in the middle of the night by a sinister voice calling him outside. Donnie gets up, walks down the stars, and out the front door only to be welcomed by...a big bunny rabbit with a face much like a long snout dog. The bunny/Frank/James Duval (The Doom Generation) tells Donnie that the world is going to end in about 28 days (in fact, the Bunny pinpoints the time down to the very day, hour, and second). Later that same evening an engine from a commercial airline comes crashing through the roof and lands directly on Donnie's bed. Donnie however was saved, because of his demented conversation with Frank.

Donnie and his family move on from this strange event and Donnie basically goes on with his life in high school. There are bullies that threaten him, close friends who tease him about escaping death, teachers who educate and teachers who are sad representations of education, and even an overweight, silent Chinese girl/Jolene Purdy who only says "shut-up" a few times throughout the film.

As each day passes counting down to the 28 days, Donnie begins to learn more and more about a life-force and how everyone possess it. In fact, an elderly woman nicknamed Grandma Death/Patience Cleveland who walks back and forth between her house and her mailbox once wrote a book on the theory - a fact that compounds Donnie to seek out even more information. Donnie also has more encounters with Frank his demented looking bunny friend, and Jim Cunningham/Patrick Swayze who is a motivation speaker shot down by Donnie.

- To go any further with a plot summary would only ruin more of the film for you - and make my "review" just "one long plot summary". So I'll stop here. -

The gem of Donnie Darko is that at least for me it came completely out of nowhere. I don't remember seeing any advertisements or trailers for this film on television. Upon further investigation I found out that Donnie Darko was actually Drew Barrymore's first venture into creating a film from her own production company. And, even better, Barrymore gave herself a supporting character role; in fact all famous stars in the movie are given supporting roles - to not only allow the true actors/characters to shine - but also to draw less notice perhaps to the film as a whole.

The movie also seems to have been made on a fairly cheap budget. Perhaps it was just the DVD transfer - but the video seems a little grainy and the audio a little less mastered than in most movies. Clearly the bunny rabbit is a tall man in a rabbit suit - and not some special effect added in, in post-production. And the effect of these previously mentioned life-forces seem like the tail end of the creatures in The Abyss - but without as much definition that James Cameron gives. Donnie Darko is a step up from The Blair Witch Project - but not anywhere close to most crystal clean Hollywood productions - which adds to the overall mood of the movie.

Donnie Darko is also Jake Gyllenhaal's best movie to date - especially since he followed it up with the disastrous Bubble Boy. If he keeps making movies like Donnie Darko, he's probably going to go quite far as a movie star. He easily brings a sense of eerieness to Donnie and never does he seem to be overacting, or under-acting. He perfectly balances Donnie as a teenager on the verge of insanity - yet with a clear mind that perhaps we just don't understand, because we are a different plane than he is.

As for the rest of the actors - yes, that's Patrick Swayze and yes, that's Noah Wyle from ER fame. Patrick Swayze plays a motivation speaker and Professor Kenneth Monnitoff/Noah Wyle is a teacher at Donnie's school. Out of the two performances, I liked Wyle's character better - and respect Wyle because he tries to make more independent pictures (The Myth of Fingerprints, Pirates of Silicon Valley, etc) more than big Hollywood blockbusters even though he is the only remaining original star of NBC's ER.

Overall, I highly recommend Donnie Darko - but just be in the mood for it. Be ready to experience a weird, crazy movie - with low production values, a story that probably will confuse you. In the end you may say "I didn't dislike it, I didn't like it - that was interesting" but you'll be glad that at least you saw it. If you're the type that normally only like Hollywood productions with big special effects and scary, intense scenes - then Donnie Darko is probably going to disappoint you. Either way, the video/DVD is available at your local rental store (my Blockbuster only had two copies and both were out! - thank god for Hollywood Video) and even though Titanic which came out in 1997 is still considered a New Release (in some stores) - Donnie Darko which came out in 2001 can be rented for up to five days.

Check it out -just for the hell of it.


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