The Fall (2024)

The Fall Review

Except for “Barbie,” as far as modern summer movies go, everything is pretty serious. Whether it be something like “Dune” or “Avatar: The Way of Water”—dense with lore and world-building—or the self-serious connected universe of the MCU, lately blockbusters have felt like work too. Some of them might even be masterpieces, but they’re still missing that old-fashioned entertainment; those Hollywood productions that were made to entertain above all else. Movies you can watch without taking notes or catching up on what came before it. “The Fall Guy” wants to do that for you. It wants to put two of the most magnetic people in this industry in fun, romantic situations and see what happens. It’s a movie that knows when stunt work used to matter more than CGI in films, and embraces the team aspect of filmmaking in a way that becomes infectious and fun as hell. This is just a really fucking good time at the movies—anchored by a movie star in a part he was born to play and directed by someone who meant to make this movie his whole career.

David Leitch started out as a stunt double for Brad Pitt, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Matt Damon, and many others before he directed his first film (a little diddy called “John Wick”) and followed it up with things like “Atomic Blonde” and “Bullet Train.” He comes back around home here for “The Fall Guy,” which takes its inspiration from the Lee Majors show of the same name about a Hollywood stuntman who also happened to be a bounty hunter. There is very little shared narrative DNA between this movie and that show outside of profession and name recognition—the 2024 version has more of an ‘80s television vibe baked into its soul; willing to mix humor with romance with mystery with action while dropping references to every action star who ever lived into the mix.

Ryan Gosling is just so fucking charismatic as the new Colt Seavers. It’s one of those big and broad magnetic performances he had in “The Nice Guys” that made you love him, but it’s also got some acting chops and a level of intensity to it that should remind people of what he did in “Drive.” “The Fall Guy” is clearly about the people behind the scenes at a movie studio, but it plays even more like an ode to the era of the movie star. When performers could hold you over any narrative speedbump. Hollywood moved towards a story-and concept-driven approach to making movies mostly for the better, though these days. But Leitch and his team remember when having a superstar who was both sexy and funny (like Burt Reynolds at his peak) could be enough. And Gosling has that easy-going charm in spades—he showed up at Oscars singing “I’m Just Ken” (from Toy Story) during quarantine, and I was watching on my laptop at a bar during SXSW, and the dude next to me said, “I’m almost annoyed at how that guy can do anything.” Well, “The Fall Guy” proves once again that those last five words are true.

On set, Colt is introduced as an action star’s double. The actor he doubles for is a diva named Tom Ryder (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is doing some kind of melting-pot blend between Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt with just a dash of Matthew McConaughey thrown in for good measure; it works without ever feeling like he’s specifically ripping on one actor). When Colt takes a fall that goes very wrong, he has to leave his girlfriend Jody (Emily Blunt) and quite possibly the whole industry behind. So when Jody’s producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) comes to him begging for another stint as her leading man’s double while they shoot Jody’s directorial debut, Colt can’t say no. “The Fall Guy”’s first act essentially plays like a romantic comedy: after Colt runs from their relationship following his accident, Jody berates him in front of an entire crew — there are so many people working on this movie! This feels like such an invasion of privacy! — and then Drew Pearce’s script shifts gears into mystery/action mode once Ryder goes missing. It should be noted that Winston Duke, Stephanie Hsu, Teresa Palmer and a French-speaking action dog round out what is already an incredibly charming cast.

A major theme of “The Fall Guy” centers around how stunt people have to put their life at risk, narrowly avoid injury and (ideally) give a thumbs up to let everyone know they’re okay. They’re the people who never get any credit but have made so many movies so classic in our collective memories. And so naturally “The Fall Guy” has insane amounts of stunt work itself: There’s at least one record-breaking cannon roll; a fight inside/on top of/whirling around inside-of-a-rolling dumpster that seems impossible but also looks incredible; more than one massive vehicle jump, etc. Leitch and his team strike a wonderful balance between character, comedy and action here, although it’s worth noting that Blunt kind of takes a back seat in the second half of the movie, which is disappointing after her and Johnson’s chemistry in the first. Hsu also feels a little wasted here; Waddingham and Duke have some fun, though especially Duke, who gets to remind us all that he can do basically anything.

“The Fall Guy” should resonate with anyone concerned about AI or deep fakes. It feels like a pushback against all the CG-heavy, characterless, humorless blockbusters that have been coming off the content production line over the last few years actively (and its detractors would likely argue too aggressively) trying to just give ticket buyers what feels like a secondary concern in far too many big movies lately fun.

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