“The Fall Guy” is a Love Letter to Action Movies

Nothing in the world compares to the feeling of watching a good action movie. Regardless of our own age, ability, or physical shape, we sit in a darkened room and watch characters risk their lives for a lofty goal or sensational crime. We may never ride a motorcycle over an expansive gorge or hang from the rails of a moving helicopter, but in watching these films we feel like we can. We see ourselves in the action and feel, for just a brief moment in time, invincible. And who do we have to thank for this cathartic adrenaline rush? Stunt actors. These brave men and women have been pushing the envelope for decades, adding excitement and weight to our favorite movies. David Leitch’s The Fall Guy is a love letter to these stunt men – an action-packed joy ride honoring everything we love about the genre and the people who make it happen. 

Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) is a stuntman, the unsung hero of the movie world. As the double for action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), he takes the falls and fakes the punches for his thespian look-alike then steps aside to let the star enjoy the limelight. When a routine stunt goes dangerously wrong, Colt says goodbye to Hollywood and his dream girl Jody (Emily Blunt), a camera operator eyeing the director’s chair. A year or so later, Ryder’s producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) pulls him back in to appear in Jody’s first feature film: a big budget action adventure centering star-crossed lovers who reunite on a distant planet. When Ryder fails to appear on set, Colt must find the eccentric A-lister and get him back to work before Jody’s directorial career ends up on the cutting room floor. 

Action takes center stage in this delightful comedy adventure. A former stuntman himself, Leitch not only has a reverence for the art form, but an in-depth understanding of the way it all works. We’re treated to exciting sequences of every flavor, from rolling cars and fiery falls to explosive chases and apocalyptic battles. It’s stuntman Christmas and no opportunity to execute a badass flip or death-defying jump goes unclaimed. Each sequence ramps up with a bit of a wink to the camera and you can almost hear the stunt coordinator preparing us for the scene. The sequences feel a bit stagey, but that’s all part of the fun and these set pieces are designed not only to thrill, but to highlight the massive amount of work and skill that goes into filming each one. The result is a veritable showcase of everything the action genre has to offer. 

Though characters are constantly taking a hit or flying through panes of glass, Leitch maintains an air of infectious fun. We feel every impact, but we’re carried along by assured performers and an upbeat tone. Many sequences are set to incredible needle drops as well, bridging the divide between an endearing love story and one of physical redemption. Leitch strikes the perfect balance between these two elements and bounces back and forth between Jody’s desire to achieve her dreams and Colt’s need to reestablish himself as her hero. One exciting scene sees director and stunt man collaborate on an intricate fight scene designed to mirror the yearning for romantic connection Set to “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” It’s a joyful bit of meta filmmaking that doesn’t overstay its welcome. But the true showstopper is a car chase scene playing out against Blunt’s karaoke rendition of “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).” Jody pines for her lost love while Colt careens through the streets fighting for her film. It’s a powerful moment that truely highlights the marriage of physical strength and emotional intimacy. 

Leitch also spends a great deal of time nodding to classics of action cinema as well. To tentpole franchises like Rocky and the Bourne series to period pieces like The Last of the Mohicans, it’s nearly impossible to watch without jumping in to name the beloved quote used to communicate a strategic decision or bonding moment. Leitch plays with the camera as well, using tricks like a split screen and animation effects to add visual flair. Yes, he’s throwing just about everything at the wall, but it works if you accept the invitation to sit back and enjoy the ride. There are plot holes galore in this relatively simple story, but we’re so dazzled by the exciting action and charming actors that we let it go in anticipation of the next thrilling stunt. 

These slight problems are compensated for by an incredible cast. Gosling may just be the most charming actor in the game right now and a scene in which he waltzes up to the top of a building while calmly making a date with the woman of his dreams then jumping backwards off a building cements his status as a Hollywood legend. Blunt equals his performance as the slightly neurotic but totally capable Jody. We know exactly what it means for a woman to be helming her first action film and we know what will happen if the movie fails. 

Waddingham nails the scattered, but commanding producer archetype, running around making broad statements with a perpetual diet coke or iced coffee in her hand. Winston Duke is equally charming as Colt’s stunt coordinator and best friend, using his own extensive knowledge of the genre to try to save the day. But Aaron Taylor-Johnson steals the show as the smarmy Ryder. Insisting that he does his own stunts, he seems to be having a ball making himself look like the biggest douche-bag possible. Rather than a bombastic film stitched together with meaningless dialogue, the stellar cast approaches the quieter moments with equal weight. Yes, we may be waiting for the next car to explode, but we’re just as invested in this endearing love story. 

The Fall Guy is an excellent example of flawless execution allowing us to let go of small inconsistencies. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s nearly impossible to watch this joyful romp without singing along, wincing with every hit, and leaning forward in your seat with the biggest smile on your face. It’s a love letter to an element of Hollywood used to sitting on the sidelines and watching everyone else take the credit for their hard work. Stunt men and women succeed when the audience doesn’t know they exist and Leitch’s The Fall Guy allows them to step into the spotlight. 

Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.

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