Five Cent Cine: The Fall Guy

The Fall Guy ★★★1/2 (out of 4 stars)

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Ryan Gosling is the fall guy, the stunt man, in this highly touted rom-com/action-hero film by director David Leitch (“Atomic Blond” [2017], “Deadpool” [2018]). It’s both a real job (“it hurts every time,” Colt Seavers admits in a late scene that reveals the 2-thumbs-up, I’m-fine, this-is-what-men-do” code of the stunt man and other men), and a metaphor. Seavers, and the actor Gosling, interestingly, stand for all the ordinary, behind-the-scenes people who participate in making a film, and who, like miners or cleaning women, work in dangerous or debilitating jobs, using up their bodies. The stunt man also exists in revealing tension with the leading man, for whom he doubles, a celebrity who wields power, selfishly and venally. Sporting another cowboy name, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is arrogant, insecure, and ultimately evil, accusing his stunt double of showing “too much face.” Seavers is self-confident but humble, a real person. Until he becomes an action hero.

Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling, at right in movie still) is the stunt man who takes all the hits. “It all hurts.” In this case for the arrogant leading man, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, back to camera).

The set-up for the rom-com element is comically obvious, but also touching. Seavers has had a serious stunt-man accident, and he has withdrawn, from himself (“I detached from myself too”) and the love of his life, Jody (Emily Blunt), who was behind the camera and now, many months later, having decided that her relationship with Colt is unfixable, is directing her first film. It’s a big-budget epic that just happens to feature a damaged relationship between Aliena and Space Cowboy, and it asks if an alien and a human can truly mate. When Colt shows up on the set, Jody puts a megaphone in his hand and asks him to “tell us what he [Space Cowboy] might say” that would explain his bad behavior and provide grounds for reconciliation with Aliena. Later, Jody and Colt debate the virtues of the split screen, with Jody defending the device as one that will stand for the irreconcilable differences between her filmic protagonists, and Colt advocating for a one-screen merger. This isn’t Chekhov, Leitch is telling us, not even Tarantino; relax and enjoy the show. You will.

Ryan Gosling, as Colt Seavers (left), is the self-effacing man every woman, including Jody (Emily Blunt) wants.

Gosling is making a career with this role: the likeable, self-effacing, everyman, with a body capable of physical feats—the non-threatening, emotionally-available guy every woman wants (at least since the drinking and whining husband of  2010’s “Blue Valentine”). Barbie fell for him, and it’s tempting to see “The Fall Guy” as another in a line of films featuring a strong (and feminist) woman and a needy man, including last year’s “Poor Things” (child becomes woman) as well as “Barbie” (doll becomes woman: “I want to see my gynecologist”).

Like “Barbie’s” Margot Robbie, Blunt has a pretty, but not especially expressive face, and there’s a blankness to Emma Stone in “Poor Things,” too. Nonetheless, the comparison of those films with “The Fall Guy” suffers from Jody’s character arc, or lack of it. The script tries to depict her as malleable, mainly by having evil producer Gail (a great and almost unrecognizable Hannah Waddington from TV’s ”Ted Lasso”) say she is, and as lacking the self-confidence that only a man (Colt) can provide (a reversal of the standard gender paradigm). These attempts don’t work because Jody opens the film as a talented director, adept at making hard and quick decisions and, like every other character, she easily adapts to a late role as action hero combatant (albeit one who never shows cuts and bruises, unlike Colt). Jody’s cold, realistic, judgmental, rejecting self has to open up just a bit to allow Colt back into her life, but the hard emotional work—coming back from the trauma of the accident, muttering the “I’m so sorry” apology that’s (stereotypically) hard for any man—is his. 

As simple and straightforward as that love story is, one wishes for more of it, not less, as Leitch turns to the action film and a no-holds-barred Colt, not far removed from a back injury that had him parking cars, who can suddenly do anything, including setting a world record for rolling a car. (And making a pitch for an Oscar category for stunt men and women.) While Colt’s out there battling one bad guy after another in James Bond fashion, Jody (on split screen, of course), is singing Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” at a karaoke parlor. It’s a cross-cut moment that doesn’t quite succeed, one meant to hold onto the love story but overwhelmed by the stunt-dominated action scenes that, good as they are and working on a variety of levels, dominate the film’s final third.

Anyway, lots of fun. See it on the big screen. Stay for the behind-the-stunt-scenes over the credits.

Date: 2024

Stars: 3.5 (out of 4)

Director: David Leitch

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddington

Country: England, United States (filmed in Sydney, Australia)

Language: English

Runtime: 126 minutes

Other Awards: One nomination to date

Availability: Playing widely in theaters. No streaming availability at this time. See JustWatch here for future streaming availability.

Lead image: Stay for the behind-the-stunt scenes over the credits – here with Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling in the air, left), and Jody (Emily Blunt, hanging out of the truck).

See all Five Cent Cine reviews by 2 Film Critics

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