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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Reel Critic: “The Fall Guy”

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt are ready to put their Barbenheimer rivalry behind them. In “The Fall Guy,” stuntman-turned-director David Leitch’s latest action-comedy extravaganza, the supporting stars of last summer’s two biggest hits join forces to trade in feminist satire and apocalyptic angst for an unabashedly giddy kickoff to Hollywood’s favorite time of the year.

Anyone making the trip to the theater hoping to watch a pair of glamorous movie stars quip and flirt their way through a comic romance — all punctuated with scenes of over-the-top action — will be more than satisfied by Leitch’s film. For those expecting an early-summer blockbuster of narrative intensity and visual splendor, it might be best to wait for “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.” Powered entirely by the charisma and chemistry of its leads, “The Fall Guy” is a funny, dramatically serviceable film that celebrates stunt performers but ultimately reminds everyone watching that Hollywood filmmaking is a movie star’s game.

Leitch, who for years took all the hits and falls that made actors like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon look like real action heroes, directed his fifth feature to be a love letter to the stuntmen and stuntwomen who carry out the most dangerous tasks on a film shoot, but often receive the least credit for the finished work. His fictional ambassador for the stunt community is Colt Seavers (Gosling), an industry-best “fall guy” who doubles for Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the world’s most popular action star. In between takes that require him to plummet through the air and be launched by explosions, Colt begins a fling with camera operator Jody Moreno (Blunt), an aspiring director. She eventually gets her big break, but not before Colt is badly injured in an on-set accident and shuts himself away from her, icing their kindling relationship. 

Eighteen months later, the disillusioned stuntman receives a call from Ryder’s producer (Hannah Waddingham) to work on his current film, which Jody is directing. But when Colt arrives on set, he becomes entangled in a deadly conspiracy involving the unhinged star that threatens to shut down the production and end Jody’s filmmaking career before it has begun. “The Fall Guy” follows Colt as he races to uncover the mystery surrounding Ryder, save Jody’s movie and win back her love.

Gosling has undergone somewhat of a brand transformation following his uber-popular, Oscar-nominated performance as Ken in “Barbie.” After years of starring in serious dramas like “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Blade Runner 2049,” the Canadian actor apparently now wants to take on lighter, more fun roles that allow him to tap into his, well, “Kenergy.” Gosling’s work in “The Fall Guy” reflects just that intention. Chiseled, golden and roughed up with blood and grime, he plays Colt Seavers as a hunk with a heart. Sure, the stuntman can hold his own in a brawl or a high-speed chase, but he can also get in touch with his feelings, a uniquely modern badge of masculinity that is hilariously displayed in a scene of Colt crying alone in his car to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well.”

In this moment and many others, Gosling exudes that easy charm that makes his character the winning combination of cool and relatable, an adrenaline junky who wants nothing more than to find a quiet beach and sip spicy margaritas with the woman he loves. It doesn’t hurt that the star of “The Big Short” and “The Nice Guys” is also sneakily one of the funniest actors working in Hollywood today. Gosling’s dry sense of humor and surprising knack for slapstick permeate “The Fall Guy,” and if the film ultimately goes down as a hit, it will be predominantly because of the consistent laughs earned by its leading man.

The rest of that credit will go to Blunt, fresh off her first Academy Award nomination for her searing performance in “Oppenheimer” and again in strong form for this markedly more upbeat summer flick. Blunt is very clearly having a blast playing Jody Moreno, leaning into the manic-director schtick in one scene, singing Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” at a karaoke show in another and sparking playfully romantic fireworks with Gosling’s Colt in all the rest. Her best moment comes when she crashes Colt’s Swift-scored pity party, teasing him and hopping in the car to lay down the ground rules of their working relationship. Blunt is a Brit, and she lets her London accent rip all throughout “The Fall Guy,” never better than in this charged scene that sees Jody share her first real conversation with Colt since they separated.

The “Edge of Tomorrow” star is not just a verbal actress, though. In an action scene that brings her unknowingly into close-quarters combat with a disguised Colt, Jody unleashes a comically long barrage of kicks, punches and wrestling holds that highlights Blunt’s athleticism and proves why she has been so successful at crossing genres over the course of her career. She won’t get the Oscar nod for this role, but Blunt can add her work in “The Fall Guy” to her growing resume of solid performances in entertaining films.

And yes, Leitch’s film is a highly entertaining one. From a Guinness-World-Record-setting car stunt in which real-life fall guy Logan Holladay executes an 8.5-revolution cannon roll to a neon-hued, psychedelic fight scene that showcases Gosling’s chops as a comedic action star, it has all the makings of the popcorn movies that this season of cinema is all about. The best summer blockbusters, however, transcend simple escapism and become powerful, lasting works of pop culture — think “Jaws,” or pretty much any Steven Spielberg film released between May and September. “The Fall Guy” understandably never reaches those lofty heights, weighed down by a bland plot and somewhat stale action. Even so, it promises and delivers two hours of laughs and thrills provided by a pair of Hollywood’s hottest stars, making for an undeniably good time at the theater. In these crazy times of social tension and political uncertainty, what more can we ask of a movie?  

Jack Torpey

Jack Torpey '24 (he/him) is an Arts and Culture Editor. He writes film reviews for the Reel Critic column.  

Jack is studying English with a minor in Film and Media Culture. Outside The Campus, he works as a peer writing tutor at the Writing Center and is a member of the Middlebury Consulting Group.