NOC Review: ‘The Fall Guy’ is a Heart-Racing, Rollicking, Ryan Gosling Ride

I love summer movies! Ever since I was a kid, they gave me a reason to visit a cool air conditioned theater during summer vacation, to immerse myself in the exploits and explosions of action stars and spectacular spectacles. And while the definition of a summer blockbuster has evolved thanks to the dawn of the superhero film, every once in a while, a terrific throwback movie with practical stunts and a witty script will come along to remind you that blockbusters without superheroes can still be just as incredible. And that’s The Fall Guy!

Director David Leitch has been known to be one of the biggest advocates for the stunt community in cinema since he hit the scene as a big time director on John Wick alongside Chad Stahelski in 2014. And since then, he’s grown significantly as a premiere action director with movies like Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Bullet Train. But as good as those films were, Leitch was only just scratching the surface. And his latest feature, The Fall Guy, just happens to be the best film of his career so far, and that’s potentially because it also feels like it’s his most personal.

imageTHE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch
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THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

The Fall Guy is not only a love letter to stunt work in the industry. It is a fun and clever plea to the industry, shouting out to Hollywood that these hard-working risk takers deserve our love and attention as much as above the line talent and A-List actors, starting with a damn stunt category at the Oscars. This is a movie about how much we take them for granted, and how little respect they get, despite all the things that they do. And it’s punctuated by wonderful direction, amazing and fun action set pieces, and terrific and hilarious performances from Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Hannah Waddingham, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

While the original series was about a stuntman moonlighting as a bounty hunter, the movie’s narrative is different (and actually quite a lot better). After suffering a terrible accident on the set of his last film, stuntman Colt Seavers (Gosling) has severed all ties to the industry, including his one-time love, Jody (Blunt). However, when the action star who he used to double for (Johnson) mysteriously vanishes, while filming Jody’s directorial debut, Seavers is brought back into the mix by their producer Gail (Waddingham) to find the star and save the film. From there Seavers begins to unravel a conspiracy that threatens, not only the movie, but also his own life as well!

imageRyan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch
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Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

It would be a complete disservice to the film if the stunt work wasn’t among the first things I called out. The set pieces in this movie are so freaking terrific! From the very first act, where we get stunt performer, Logan Holladay’s record breaking eight cannon rolls, to an unexpected sword fight in an apartment, to an insane chase sequence within a truck bed, and an unexpected confession sequence. We see stuntmen Holladay, Ben Jenkin, and Troy Brown, among several on their teams, setting themselves on fire, falling great distances, flying boats over flames, and jumping cars over enormous chasms throughout the course of this movie. And it is all incredible spectacle, handled with the greatest of care and affection for these brilliant daredevils and for the audience. As of now, I can’t see any other films this year accomplishing the same level of practical action we see in The Fall Guy (though I’m also holding out to see what George Miller does with Furiosa).

As far as the story goes, as serious as the film’s premise sounds, the movie is actually hilarious! It’s cleverly meta, winking at the audience every second about the type of action movie this is. It’s a brilliant take on the “movie about movies” formula, and yields itself to some really terrific choices by Leitch, which showcase the most ambitious choices he’s made in his films to date, such as the use of split-screens, drug addled action scenes with unicorns, and record-breaking stunts never before achieved on film. This is an action-comedy that could have been very conventional, but ends up being more hilarious and more clever because of Leitch’s self-aware approach. And in some ways this tongue-in-cheek cleverness combined with the mystery at play makes The Fall Guy feel oddly like a spiritual successor to Gosling’s The Nice Guys, down to the voice over work. And that’s not a bad thing at all; in fact it’s probably the highest compliment I could give this one.

Of course none of this would be as compelling as it is if it weren’t for the most likable leads in a Leitch film. Gosling and Blunt have terrific chemistry. There’s a sweetness there between them and within the movie that’s incredibly unexpected. In some cases the romance could take unnecessary focus from the mystery story, and might drag on here and there. But it’s thankfully never poorly executed given how well the two work together. There is one scene in particular where Blunt is using a thinly veiled attempt to air out their relationship grievances on set during filming, while Gosling is being set on fire over and over that just completely kills it! It’s funny, it provides exposition, insane stunt work, and does all this without feeling trite or perfunctory. That’s the type of romantic tension that defies the typical types of scenes we see in films like this.

As individual performances go, Gosling just slays it. He’s charming, likable, hilarious, and badass. Reinventing himself as a comedic noir-ish actor with style is terrific! He’s able to throw down one minute, and cry to Taylor Swift the next. He was the perfect actor to take on the reins of Colt Seavers. Blunt is also terrific! She’s just as funny as her co-lead, and also is able to hold her own during action scenes. There’s a specifically hilarious fight scene in her trailer that was insanely well choreographed but also had the audience rolling with laughter once they figured out what was going on.

imageAaron Taylor-Johnson in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch
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Aaron Taylor-Johnson in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

The supporting cast is also great with Waddingham and Taylor-Johnson stealing several scenes in the most goofy, exaggerated, stereotypical lampoons of Hollywood producers and action stars today. I was incredibly surprised with how much Taylor-Johnson was in this one, but he’s hysterical as Tom Ryder, whether he’s hamming it up as his overacting character during movie scenes for the movie-within-a-movie, Metalstorm, or acting like an immature and irresponsible party mess. While Waddingham goes way beyond her Rebecca Welton character from Ted Lasso to portray Gail Meyer, an absolute trashy mess of a producer, desperately willing to do what it takes to satisfy Tom’s needs. They make a terrific duo!

I will say, however, that both Stephanie Hsu and Winston Duke are a bit shortchanged in this one. Neither one of their characters gets extensive screen time, despite the amount of immense talent they both possess. And while they both make use of it, their roles were just a bit too limited to make much of an impact. Should a sequel progress for this one, I’d hope they’d get expanded roles.

imageRyan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch
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Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

The other thing that makes the movie a ton of fun is the jukebox array of classic 80s needle drops playing throughout the various scenes in the movie. This is one of those movies that takes joy in its soundtrack, and pays homage to the original roots of its premise at the same time, with classic hits from Journey, KISS, and AC/DC. And watching stunts being performed with explosions, to the sound of classic rock is exactly what you need in a blockbuster, and makes The Fall Guy feel like a classic action romp of old. And on a technical level the sound mixing in the film is wonderful every bone crunching sound and glass shatter helping the movie pop brilliantly.

Honestly, there’s not much else I can say to sell you on The Fall Guy that you just have to see for yourself. This is blockbuster filmmaking at its finest, and most satisfying. This is a really funny movie, with some amazing action and terrific spectacle, and fantastic performances. And it’s surprisingly a lot more clever and sweet than it has any right to be for either a summer blockbuster or a TV adaptation. It’s honestly just a great time, and the epitome of what we go to the movies for every summer!

Overall Score: B+