Monday, May 27, 2024

Film Review: The Fall Guy

Tip your local stunt people

The Fall Guy starts out with a premise that I don’t think anyone can really dispute: that stunt people are the real unsung heroes of Hollywood. We all love the thrilling action scenes in big-budget blockbusters, but we so often forget that the actors in those scenes are not the actors who are on the movie posters and advertisements. They go, all too often, completely unrecognized, even as they take all sorts of punishment (I’m reminded of the stunt guy in an episode of iCarly who fell from the ceiling for the part and broke all his ribs. I hope he’s doing okay). So, on some level, that’s what this movie is doing: bringing the trials and travails of stunt actors to the big screen, deliberately, putting the spotlight on their efforts and how they make the movies the world adores.

The Fall Guy, released in 2024, directed by David Leitch and written by Drew Pearce, is loosely based on the 1980s action show of the same name; I’ll admit that I haven’t seen it, nor did I know it even existed before I did the research after seeing the trailers for this film (a look at the internet makes it seem this was not an uncommon experience). It’s a show that has, so far as I can tell, dropped off the map entirely until now. Yes, in some sense it is another incidence of remake mania, but if it’s for things that are basically unknown, and the end result is entertaining, I’ll give it a pass. As TVTropes is fond of saying, tropes are tools, and here the tool is used well.

The Fall Guy is mostly set in Australia, where a big-name Hollywood film production for a blockbuster sci-fi epic along the lines of Mad Max or Dune is being shot by an ambitious director played by Emily Blunt. Through a series of odd events, an old flame shows up on set, a stuntman played by Ryan Gosling, to do some of the stunts. The two had fallen out over certain dramas on a previous film set, and their relationship is tense, but the flame shows signs of rekindling itself. Gosling’s character is a stuntman for a famous action star played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Now, all of that sounds like a Hollywood production, understandable even in its odd little relationships, but the star has disappeared, and his producer, played by Hannah Waddingham, suggests that it involved some shady business.

I feel like, on some level, all the characters are stereotypes, but the film uses them knowingly. Perhaps the biggest element of subversion in this domain is that the ambitious director looking for a big break is a woman, who Blunt provides both dogged determination (but, I think, never outright ruthlessness) and deep tenderness. Perhaps the most rote is Taylor-Johnson’s character, who is basically every narcissistic leading man who has gone past the point where he remembers where he came from. To be clear, that is not a bad thing; it’s a character type that works in context, and he gets some great lines, delivered with appropriate presumptuousness.

But the star of the show is clearly Gosling’s character, who is, in something that feels very meta, not the star of the show. He’s a daredevil and a maverick who is good at his job and he knows it, and indeed he loves it. Gosling and Taylor-Johnson play against each other in a thematic sense; Gosling has ambition but has never been corrupted by it, while Taylor-Johnson has fallen so deeply into that abyss that he has no idea which way is up. Gosling’s character is what Hollywood should be: decent people having fun making movies so the rest of us can enjoy it (and perhaps write about them on blogs). Taylor Johnson’s character is what Hollywood unfortunately is: brash, arrogant, and willing to throw lord knows how many people under the proverbial bus to make it to the top and stay there. Gosling’s character knows that he has limits, that he is mortal; Taylor-Johnson’s character has come to think that he is God, and we know what happens when the wealthy play God.

The Fall Guy is something of a romantic comedy, albeit with more explosions and people in odd costumes. This works as well as it does because Gosling and Blunt have a certain chemistry that just works. They have both believable flaws and believable reasons for being attracted to one another in the first place, and all of this is bolstered by some great lines, such as one when she just realized he arrived in Australia and all their issues, long suppressed, have come to the fore, in a way that is both heart-rending and uproariously funny, a combination that is no small feat for all involved.

There’s a certain element of metatextuality here, although one relatively subdued compared to films like Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, so deftly reviewed by my colleague Arturo Serrano on this blog. The sci-fi epic that is being made in the film (which, in my opinion, looks like it would be an entertaining film in its own right) is a big, bombastic story, and this film is about the not quite so bombastic but nevertheless big (in their own way) stories that come from the process of making those stories. It’s something that works better for a collaborative medium like film (not much excitement in the actual process of writing a novel, for example - although this year’s Argylle did that, and in my opinion succeeded reasonably well). This becomes a little stronger in the end credits, where you see the actual stunt crew for this film about a fictional stunt crew; it makes me wonder if anything interesting happened on this set.

The Fall Guy
is pure and simple fun, and uses its scaffolding to hold up an edifice that knows who built it, and wants you to know that. It’s both high-octane and very human, and balances those two strands well. It’s worth seeing in theaters - there’s an amusing ‘thanks for keeping movie theaters open’ bit at the beginning, which is funny, and there’s a mid-credits scene that is also very funny. I feel like seeing this film at home would lessen the effect somewhat; let the love letter to the genre be seen in its most traditional haunt.


Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

POSTED BY: Alex Wallace, alternate history buff who reads more than is healthy.