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Fans Have Been All Over Conor McGregor's Performance Over Jake Gyllenhaal's In Road House. I'm Sorry, But We Should Be Giving Him Way More Credit

 Jake Gyllenhaal standing on guard in Road House.
Jake Gyllenhaal standing on guard in Road House.

When we rounded up critics’ reactions to Road House, many were quick to sing Conor McGregor’s praises and overlook Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as our leading man Dalton. Well, while the UFC fighter is great fun to watch in this film on the 2024 movie schedule, I think we’re focusing on the wrong guy, and it’s time we give Gyllenhaal the credit he deserves.

Overall, reviews for this movie from Doug Liman are mixed. While CinemaBlend’s review of Road House by Eric Eisenberg sang Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor’s praises, other outlets didn’t think so highly. For example, the AV Club’s review says Gyllenhaal “looks uncomfortable,” and IndieWire said he “lacks the charisma” to pull off Dalton’s one-liners. Meanwhile, CinemaBlend’s Sean O’Connell said that McGregor steals the show from Gyllenhaal, and that “outside of Conor McGregor playing a gonzo fighter for hire, the remake packs little punch.”

Well, I deeply disagree with all these opinions. In fact, I think the only reason Road House works is because of how excellent Jake Gyllenhaal is.

Conor McGregor and Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House
Conor McGregor and Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House

Conor McGregor’s Performance Flies, But Jake Gyllenhaal’s Grounds The Whole Movie

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dalton and Conor McGregor’s Knox are great foils, they contrast each other quite well, and watching them go up against each other is epic.

McGregor rolls up acting like an over-the-top Fast and Furious villain, he’s constantly operating at an energy level of 100 out of 10, and he will throw a punch or run a car into something whenever the opportunity arises. It’s a lot to take in, and his violent reaction to everything is almost too much. However, I love that his absolutely wild villain is balanced out by Jake Gyllenhaal’s character.

So, while Knox literally and figuratively flies around this movie like an absolute madman, Dalton is doing the exact opposite. He’s teaching others how to defend the bar, he’s taking criminals to the hospital, and he won’t get into a fight unless he has to. I love that juxtaposition, and I think it’s super effective.

I also think this movie wouldn’t work if it was just Conor McGregor and someone else playing Dalton. Jake Gyllenhaal’s take on his character, which we’ll talk about next, is fascinating and subdued, he grounds the film, and without him, the UFC fighter wouldn’t have thrived.

Jake Gyllenhaal talking to Lukas Gage in Road House.
Jake Gyllenhaal talking to Lukas Gage in Road House.

I Really Dug Dalton’s Reluctant Vigilante Mindset

What makes Dalton so interesting to me is he doesn’t actually want to be a fighter. After a fatal UFC fight, he left and became a fighter for hire. He’s very smart when it comes to human anatomy, and throughout the film, he says how folks are injured, and at one point he even takes a group of bad guys he beat up to the hospital. I never expected an action movie like this to follow a guy like him. I thought he’d be the first into a fight, and I loved Road House more because he wasn't. Jake Gyllenhaal did too, as he told Today about the scene that sold him on the movie:

It was the reason I wanted to do it. The first line where he says, 'Do you have insurance?' I think, to me, is a genuine question, and it really made me laugh. (That whole sequence) is the reason I wanted to play the character.

In the same interview, Gyllenhaal also explained that he loved the stillness and reluctance in his character when it comes to fighting, which I loved too:

He’s definitely kind of the stillest, and most confident in his stillness, that I’ve ever played. One of the things I took from the original film and from Mr. Swayze was this kind of real confidence in observation. He’s a character that stays still and watches until he can’t anymore, really. And I love that about him. And I also think his intention in the end always, even in that first fight, is to help people out, which I love about him.

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Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House poster
Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House poster

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The Zodiac actor’s performance is almost understated in a way because he’s fairly subdued and still. However, it also reminds me of the contemplative wild characters Gyllenhaal has played in the past – like Nightcrawler – that we know and love him for. The way he delivered his lines in such a calm manner and his expressions whenever a fight broke out showed this idea and just how much work the actor was doing to help the audience understand Dalton’s internal struggle.

While Dalton is level-headed, I also noticed this battle going on within him that made me wonder when he was going to blow, because we know how aggressive, violent and spontaneous he can be. I loved that this guy was trying so hard to be good, but was always struggling with fighting his instinct to fight. The push and pull of that was what made Road House so interesting.

Overall, this reluctant vigilante Gyllenhaal plays was incredibly compelling, and I appreciated his mentality when it came to picking his battles. It upped the stakes because you know that if he gets involved it will be deadly. Also, it makes for a complex protagonist because of this juxtaposition between his being an ultra-skilled and lethal fighter and his trying to be a calm and contemplative presence.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House
Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House

In Terms Of Action, Jake Gyllenhaal And The Stunt Team Brought Their A-Games

When we got those first photos from the UFC match of Jake Gyllenhaal filming Road House, it was clear that the actor had fully committed to transforming into Dalton, and he looked absolutely ripped.

It turns out, it was more than just good looks, because Gyllenhaal brought his A-game to the action in this movie. Between the actor and his stunt double Eric Linden, they made Dalton a guy who could hold his own against Conor McGregor, and I fully believed that anyone who challenged the former fighter would lose. I think the best example of this came in the final fight against McGregor in the bar. It was brutal and scrappy, and I was ready to stand up and applaud Gyllenhaal and everyone involved in creating that jaw-dropping fight.

Along with his skills as an actor, Gyllenhaal and the folks working on Road House made him look like a real lethal fighter when it was time to throw a punch. When you mix that with the reluctant vigilante mentality, you get a fascinating main character to go on this bonkers journey with.

To me, the whole reason Road House works comes down to Jake Gyllenhaal. Yes, Conor McGregor is good, and I liked his performance. However, it’s crazy to me that the leading man of this movie isn’t getting as much credit as he deserves considering everything we’ve just discussed.

To come to your own conclusions about Jake Gyllenhaal and Road House, you can stream it right now with an Amazon Prime subscription.