Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut “Molly’s Game” and David Gordon Green’s emotional drama “Stronger” landed at the Toronto Film Festival Friday, providing showcase true-life roles for Jessica Chastain and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively. The two stars, who are incidentally set to partner on screen together in Stephen Gaghan’s Tom Clancy adaptation “The Division,” could dive headlong into very different lead actor and actress Oscar races this year.
It’s been more than a decade since Gyllenhaal roped in a supporting actor nomination for his performance opposite Heath Ledger in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.” In the years since, he stumbled just enough (2010’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”) to recalibrate and maintain a true heading on roles that excite and challenge him. Indeed, that recalibration has become the actor’s ongoing narrative, as performances in films like “End of Watch,” “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” “Nightcrawler,” “Southpaw” and “Demolition,” among others, reveal a fearless trajectory and a desire to work with compelling artists like Denis Villeneuve and Jean-Marc Vallee.
Already this year Gyllenhaal has appeared in Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” delivering an off-the-rails portrayal that sparked quite a divisive reaction — one that seemed to amuse the actor all the more. But he’s on the complete other end of the spectrum in “Stronger,” which tells the true story of Boston marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman. Bauman lost both legs in the blast and even assisted in identifying terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev for investigators, helping to ensure he and brother Dzhokhar were brought to justice. But the film doesn’t focus on the intense manhunt that proved electrifying fodder for Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day.” Rather, it’s concerned with Bauman’s hard-fought recovery and his emotional journey from aimless townie to responsible adult. Naturally, that allows quite a canvas for Gyllenhaal to work with.