The Fall Guy review | A terrific rom-com, and a love letter to movie stunts

the fall guy
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Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling are on terrific form in the first summer blockbuster of 2024: here’s our The Fall Guy review.

There’s something quite nostalgic in realising I’m sat in front of a blockbuster movie letting its hair down and having some flat-out fun. That the dark corner subplots are being left alone, the need to build a long-running franchise parked up, and the requirement for supernatural powers extinguished. Where even the post-credits scene is a celebration of what’s gone before, rather than a need to scuttle off to Wikipedia.

Instead, The Fall Guy offers stunts, laughs, action, more stunts, and a very good Memento gag. Plus: bonus quotes from The Last Of The Mohicans. It’s a cinematic action film on the surface, made clearly by movie nerds, and remarkably, its assorted elements skilfully balance out.

Quite how it got to this point is unclear. The Fall Guy is ostensibly based on the 1980s television series of the same name. In that long-running show, Lee Majors played a Hollywood stuntman who had a nice sideline gig in being a bounty hunter. It’d be fair to say that screenwriter Drew Pearce has cherry-picked the basics of what he wants from that, and not an NTSC pixel more. The skeleton remains, the rest is very different.

In 2024, Lee Majors now looks like Ryan Gosling, and he has no such requirement for a sideline gig. By the end of the first act, he simply needs a job. Still, as we meet him, he’s a stunt performer on an action movie set, building a burgeoning romance with a fellow member of the film production crew, Jody Morena (Emily Blunt).

Gosling’s character is called Cole Seavors, and he’s  the stunt double for major action star Tom Ryder – that’d be might-be future James Bond Aaron Taylor-Johnson – while Moreno is the filmmaker on her way up.

And, after events of the first act are concluded – a spectacular stunt included – we move on to find people in slightly different places.

Cole’s career looks pretty much done for, Jody Moreno is sat in the director’s chair, and it’s only through the manoeuvres of Hannah Waddingham’s delightfully biting executive producer Gail Meyer that the characters find themselves back together. Early credit here for bothering to make good supporting characters, and Waddingham in particular is not wasting what she’s given.

Described then, entirely reasonably, as a loose take on the television series, Pearce takes those sparing ingredients he requires of the source material, and puts on top of them something akin to a Humphrey Bogart/Katharine Hepburn adventure. Just one that happens to include a unicorn, drugs, fifty squillion knowing movie references for those who want them, and more laughs than I’ve had from a big screen blockbuster in a long, long time.

Part of the trick too is, while we’re being distracted, The Fall Guy builds up a charming, small romance, that keeps interest going even as the running time starts to just about get to watch-checking time. They won’t tell you this on the poster, but you’re also getting a really good romantic comedy for your money here. Just keep it a secret.

Behind the camera is David Leitch, whose stuntwork background has long proven him adept at knowing his way around an action movie. Films such as Atomic Blonde and Bullet Proof had put him in touching distance of making a really strong film – appreciating the merits of both of those features – but it turns out the missing ingredient might have been a few more dollops of humour. Oh, and the pairing of Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling.

Gosling, for a start, pretty much picks up his joyous work with Barbie, takes out the self-awareness and adds self-deprication in its place. The range of the man, as well as his clear movie star qualities, are on full display here.

And then there’s Emily Blunt, unleashed into a comedy role and showing every sign of never wanting to come back. There’s an old adage that the trick to having good characters is that you want to know more of their stories, even if you’re not being told them. By the time we get a film within a film coming to a crescendo, I wanted to know what Jody Morena was going to tackle next.

Heading into the final act, I confess I was more invested in the Blunt/Gosling chemistry than the core narrative. It was a tiny bit frustrating that it was sidelined in favour of a few plot things that were required. Still, David Leitch knows how to stage a stunt sequence (and he even damn well shows you how he does it too). Thus, while the romantic caper I think is the film at its best, even when it goes and does more Hollywood action things, there’s a real shift being put in.

Few films show such an overt respect and admiration for stunt work as this one does. And heck, it really is refreshing to enjoy a two hour movie that doesn’t need homework, and just leaves you considering going and buying another ticket instead.

From detailed Post-It notes to intricate action work, people have clearly put in a lot of effort here. Out of nowhere, it’s become the early outrider for 2024’s blockbuster to beat.

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