The new December Esquire came out yesterday (or the day before), with six actors being celebrated on the cover for having given the mag’s choices for “Performances of the Year.” Denzel Washington in American Gangster, Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Robert Downey in Zodiac, Emile Hirsch in Into The Wild and Jake Gyllenhaal in…Rendition?

December 2007 cover of Esquire featuring choices for the Best Movie Performances of the Year

It’s not that Gyllenhaal plays his Egypt-based CIA guy badly or ineffectively, but that Egypt-based CIA guy is written as such a revoltingly passive wuss. As Esquire‘s Mike D’Angelo points out, Gyllenhaal “spends much of Rendition standing in the corner of a dark room, watching as some poor soul gets beaten, doused and fried…it’s a near-silent performance.”

For me, Gyllenhaal’s inactivity is infuriating. He’s not just a guy doing nothing, but an emblem of do-nothing types the world over. Two thirds of the way through a screening of Rendition at the Toronto Film Festival I leaned over to a friend sitting next to me and said, motioning at Gyllenhaal, “Is he going to do anything or what?”

Gyllenhaal’s guy finally makes a move at the very end, yes, but it comes way, way too late.

I realize that tens of millions of law-abiding citizens out there go through life immobilized by fear, uncertainty and or obedience to authority, but characters like this are not worthy of anyone’s attention on a movie screen. A principal character has to do something in a drama. And if you can’t do something (due to fear, uncertainty or unstoppable obedience to authority), you have to at least let it out in some way.

828.9100, x 160…Kim