Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut

****

Reviewed by: Rory Ford

Ah, the Eighties! Bad pop music, bad movies, ludicrous fashions, the threat of Aids, trouble in the Middle East and Bush in the White House. How much has changed!

Obviously, if you didn’t live through the decade that taste forgot, you didn’t miss much. It was more or less the same as now minus iPods and Xboxes. The best, and most forgivable, reason to (re)visit the Eighties is Richard Kelly’s frequently mesmeric Donnie Darko, now, and seemingly forevermore to be judged in a director’s cut some 20 minutes longer than the original theatrical release which it presumably supplants.

Copy picture

Why though? Given that the original cut blew most people away, why tamper with a movie that flirted with genius?

Even though Kelly’s movie was clasped to the collective bosoms of Britain’s cineastes and disgruntled teens alike it bombed badly on its original US release. This is not entirely surprising given that, firstly, it’s a challenging piece of work in either cut and, secondly, it was released a month after 9/11 and given that the doom laden scenario revolves around a freakish aviation disaster... well, it was hardly going to be boffo box office.

Showing a heartening amount of faith in their investment (and, no doubt, bolstered by the film’s burgeoning cult overseas and on the internet) Newmarket Films invited Kelly to include previously deleted material on a "director’s cut" for a second crack at a cinema release. It’s important to realise this because, really, there’s nothing wrong with the original cut. It’s a challenging mix of genres at times, to be certain, but it was reassuring to watch a film that required you to bring your imagination to it.

The director’s cut, unfortunately, doesn’t trust the viewers’ intelligence quite so much. You could come away from the first version thinking Donnie was either mentally ill, psychic, haunted or a time traveller. Here, Kelly, leaves you in no doubt. He’s...

No, let Kelly fill you in. For as much as you may have loved the original, the director’s cut works on it’s own terms. If you were frustrated by nagging questions as the credits rolled years ago – here, they’re answered. It’s hard not to feel that something has been lost. However, revisiting the movie is still its own reward.

For such a plot-heavy movie – and this special edition is even more so – Donnie Darko is probably the best evocation of the twilight zone of adolescence yet put on film. Granted, with his sleepwalking and bizarre visions, there’s obviously something amiss with Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) but there’s much more wrong with the world around him. His ghastly conservative school, the idiotic self help guru (Swayze) and his insistence in painting every human emotion in shades of "Fear" and "Love" (shades of Night Of The Hunter) and let’s not forget that jet engine that smashed into Donnie’s bedroom. Donnie can see all these flaws as clearly as he can Frank, the spooky bunny, because he’s no longer a child but hasn’t "matured" into an unquestioning adult.

Curiously, the new cut does not feel significantly longer and that’s a tribute to all involved not just Kelly and his editor – who recut this, additional special effects and all, in a breezy nine days. Steven Poster’s luminous photography is a continuous joy and, unusually, for a first film all the speaking roles are well cast, written and sensitively directed (Holmes Osborne and Mary McDonnell as Donnie’s sympathetic parents are particular stand-outs).

After such a fantastic (in all senses of the word) debut Kelly seems to have stumbled. His follow-up feature Southland Tales bombed (and was booed by those who stayed to the end) at Cannes. It’s currently missing in action, reportedly being re-edited from two and half-hours into…. something releasable presumably.

Every hot young director is allowed the obligatory disappointing second feature. I suppose they’re even allowed to somewhat spoil the blistering impact of their first movie. It’s to be hoped that Kelly doesn’t spend too long in the hinterland. He’s a truly original talent – and Hollywood doesn’t have too many of them.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2006
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Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut packshot
Extended version of the cult movie about the twilight zone of adolescence. Now out to own as part of The Jake Gyllenhaal Collection.
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Director: Richard Kelly

Writer: Richard Kelly

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katherine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle

Year: 2001

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

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