Jake Gyllenhaal to Lead Thriller ‘Welcome to Vienna’

The film sounds reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Conversation.’

Jake Gyllenhaal tends to gravitate towards complicated characters, as his filmography in the last five years has shown. Far be it to claim that Gyllenhaal goes through particularly overt reinventions in his career since he seems perfectly happy to dabble in films of all genres. However, there are certain projects that demarcate his progress as a leading man.

Gems like Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, and Nightcrawler don’t so much as usher in new eras for Gyllenhaal as an actor but simply stand out from the rest of his filmography for being particularly nuanced character portrayals. Now, according to Deadline, Gyllenhaal is joining a thriller that could be another one of these game-changing roles.

The film will be based on the upcoming Kevin Wignall novel “To Die in Vienna.” Retitled Welcome to Vienna, the adaptation is said to be a “paranoid thriller” that will evoke the vibe of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. The plot centers on a civilian surveillance contractor named Freddie Makin (Gyllenhaal) who is suddenly hunted after acquiring some intel about a Chinese academic. As unknown agents break into his home and attempt to take his life, Makin realizes that he must have witnessed something he shouldn’t have. This opens up a slew of questions about who hired him in the first place and the people currently after him. Further complications arise because Makin himself has something to hide: a “past he’s running away from.”

The synopsis for Welcome to Vienna does not invite particularly groundbreaking first impressions on its own. Films examining the moral qualms of surveillance obviously aren’t a new thing, and as the topic continues to be a hot-button issue, other films have also been recently commissioned (such as Kristen Stewart’s Jean Seberg biopic). That said, The Conversation comparison is definitely a more intriguing aspect of Deadline’s report, since most modern-day thrillers don’t really come close to specific kind of character development present in Coppola’s film.

The main character in The Conversation, Harry Caul (played by Gene Hackman), is a paranoid shut-in who chooses to survey others in spite of his own moral dilemma over said profession. Despite being so physically detached from people in general (and indeed reality), Caul does work from a moral compass when he’s listening in on others’ conversations — Catholicism. However, the character operates in vastly different extremes, both through a sense of detachment due to technological reliance as well as a deep emotional investment. When a previous job potentially results in the murder of a woman and her child, Caul never forgives himself. So, when his current job seems to be going in a similar direction, he attempts to fix it by withholding the intel he has discovered, drawing him further into a thoroughly convoluted plot that causes him to unravel.

Welcome to Vienna isn’t going to be a remake of The Conversation, but if an inkling of that character complexity peeks through in the former, it’s a textbook Gyllenhaal role that he could easily knock out of the park. I still occasionally think about his work in Nightcrawler, lamenting the fact that he was hardly recognized with any accolades for such an eerie performance. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Lou Bloom in that film partially comprises a physical transformation, but that character is more emotionally and mentally insidious than anything else. Bloom is completely unemotional and unaffected by the carnage he leaves in his wake. The film’s audience has to do all the moralizing as they watch him do absolutely anything for his career to succeed.

Meanwhile, a Caul-esque role is an intriguing decision for Gyllenhaal that will aptly complement what he’s done in the past. Nightcrawler appears to be a diametric opposite, but Gyllenhaal has played characters who are, let’s say, unusually attached to their jobs in films such as Zodiac and Prisoners too. Welcome to Vienna could easily take his skills to the next level.

Sheryl Oh: @sherhorowitz Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Particularly loves writing stuff and things with a feminist bent here at Film School Rejects.