The Fall Guy review: a near-perfect summer blockbuster

Ryan Gosling wears sunglasses in The Fall Guy.

“Director David Leitch’s The Fall Guy will remind you why you fell in love with movies in the first place.”

Pros

  • Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt’s magnetic lead performances
  • Numerous thrilling set pieces and stunts
  • A refreshing blend of action and romance

Cons

  • Several obvious third-act twists
  • A few stylistic decisions that don’t totally work

A summer blockbuster made for then and now, The Fall Guy is a love letter to the oft-unsung efforts of the Hollywood stunt community. Loosely inspired by the 1980s TV series of the same name, the film is the brainchild of director David Leitch (Bullet Train), a former stuntman, his producing partner and wife, Kelly McCormick, and its charismatic goofball of a star, Ryan Gosling. Together, they’ve made a movie that is decidedly modern in its style and sense of humor, but also refreshingly old-fashioned. To put it simply: It’s been a minute since Hollywood has produced an action movie that has as much faith in the strength of its big-screen romance as it does in the awe-inspiring spectacle of its many explosions and fistfights.

The Fall Guy‘s faith, fortunately, isn’t misplaced. The film is bursting at the seams with not just high-octane stunts but also soul-stirring declarations of love and heartbreak. It has everything you could possibly want from a film like it, whether that be high-speed chases, nightclub brawls, slow-motion shots of its leading man pulling himself triumphantly to his feet after taking a tough hit, hilarious moments of physical comedy, or montages of Gosling and his co-star, Emily Blunt, looking at each other with so much palpable longing that they’ll make even the most cynical among us believe again in the power of love. You’ll leave it reminded why you even fell in love with movies in the first place.

Emily Blunt points a prop knife at Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy.
Universal Pictures

Tonally, The Fall Guy exists in the same lighthearted comedic space as another Gosling-starring classic, The Nice Guys, which was written and directed by Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black. The latter wasn’t involved in the making of The Fall Guy, but his fingerprints are all over it. The film’s script was written by Black’s Iron Man 3 co-writer, Drew Pearce, who brings a distinctly Shane Black-esque, quasi-self-aware voiceover to The Fall Guy and fills it with the kind of small visual gags and narrative payoffs, including an ingenious use of a Miami Vice Stunt Team jacket, that Black has repeatedly proven to be his bread and butter. Even more importantly, the movie gives Gosling the same chance to mix screwball comedy and genuine pathos that The Nice Guys did eight years ago.

The actor takes full advantage of that opportunity. He confidently and charismatically leads The Fall Guy as Colt Seavers, the experienced go-to stunt double for Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an egotistical movie star. When the film begins, Colt is enjoying both his position as a well-respected stuntman and his budding romance with Jody Moreno (Blunt), a camerawoman with dreams of directing a movie of her own one day. Colt’s confidence is, however, violently rattled by a dangerous accident that puts him out of action and leads him to ghost Jody. After getting used to spending his nights working as a valet, Colt is pulled out of his self-imposed exile by Tom’s producer, Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), who tells him that Jody has specifically asked for him to perform some of the stunts on her big-budget, sci-fi directorial debut.

It’s not until Colt has arrived on the set of her movie that he realizes Jody not only didn’t ask for him but also hasn’t forgiven him for abandoning their once-promising romance. Colt, desperate to win her back, lets Jody take out her frustration and anger by continually making him redo a sequence in which he’s set on fire and thrown against a wall. His efforts to redeem himself take a further turn when Gail informs him that Tom has gone missing and that Jody’s movie will be shut down if he doesn’t find him and bring him back to set. In his quest to do so, Colt quickly finds himself caught up in a criminal conspiracy involving, among other things, a highly sought-after phone and a dead body in an ice bath.

Ryan Gosling rides a broken piece of metal in The Fall Guy.
Universal Pictures

The Fall Guy doesn’t ultimately invest as much thought or time into developing its dime-a-dozen crime plot as it does Colt and Jody’s love story. That proves to be a smart decision in the end, as Gosling and Blunt’s onscreen chemistry is so electric that you’re willing to look past the obviousness of some of The Fall Guy‘s third-act twists because you just want Colt and Jody to get back together. It’s become common for Hollywood blockbusters to place romance at the very bottom of their priority lists, but The Fall Guy cares deeply about its leads’ love for each other. As far as movie-star pairings go, Gosling and Blunt feel as tied to Golden Age greats like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn as they do more modern rom-com duos like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Watching them flirt and laugh together, one remembers why action and romance have been fundamental parts of Hollywood’s specific brand of moviemaking from the very beginning.

The Fall Guy recognizes that fact. In one memorable instance, Leitch cross-cuts between Colt’s dangerous fight with a group of mysterious kidnappers in the back of a speeding garbage truck and a lovelorn rendition of Phil Collins’ Take a Look At Me Now (Against All Odds) performed by Jody in a karaoke club. This section works far better than it should, as do most of The Fall Guy‘s many ’80s needle drops, which reflect, thanks to their cranked-up power chords and full-throated musings of love, the epic nature of the film’s romantic spirit. They also match the scale of The Fall Guy‘s set pieces, which get bigger and more breathtaking the further into its runtime it gets.

The film’s standout action sequences include Colt’s previously mentioned dumpster fight, which sees him end up surfing along the streets of Sydney on a broken piece of metal, as well as a nighttime boat chase through Australia’s Port Jackson Bay and a third-act series of explosions that climax with one car literally flipping over another. Behind the camera, Leitch and his team go all out — executing each of The Fall Guy‘s brawls, chases, and fiery vehicular stunts so flawlessly that seeing the film on the biggest screen possible should be a mandatory requirement. It’s a movie that doesn’t just offer an inside look into the lives of Hollywood stuntmen but also pays tribute to their work by packing itself with the kind of rip-roaring set pieces that would be impossible to physically pull off were it not for the performers who are willing to regularly put their bodies on the line to do them.

Ryan Gosling sits on a camera jib next to a truck in The Fall Guy.
Universal Pictures

For some, the disposable nature of The Fall Guy‘s noir-tinged criminal conspiracy may be disappointing, especially given that it takes center stage a few times throughout the film’s final third. While The Fall Guy marks the first time that Leitch has successfully found the right shade of goofy, some of the director’s stylistic flourishes don’t work as well as others. His decision to accentuate a neon-lit showdown between Colt and a group of drug dealers with visual effects and animated lines that light up every time Gosling hits one of his combatants feels, for instance, out of place, and a prolonged use of split-screen in The Fall Guy‘s second act eventually crosses the line and becomes gratingly meta.

The film’s flaws are few and far between, though. It’s made with so much love that you can’t help but root for it as you’re watching it, and it — much to its benefit — fundamentally understands the movie-star capabilities of its leads. The Fall Guy, in other words, isn’t afraid to rest patiently on a static shot of Gosling sitting alone in a car, and that’s what allows even its quietest moments, like an intimate, emotionally vulnerable conversation between Colt and Jody, to hit just as hard as its biggest stunts. Its confidence makes watching the film an easy, joyous experience. It’s a movie that asks you to jump headfirst without any hesitation or questions into its heightened behind-the-scenes world, and you should. The Fall Guy will catch you.

The Fall Guy is now playing in theaters.

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