Bomb-bastic action meets chivalrous love; A critique of The Fall Guy movie

There will be spoilers.

I didn’t think I’d like this movie.

I disliked the trailers – they featured mostly action scenes, lame action humour (most of which does not appear in the film, btw), with a small side helping of mild, low-conflict romance.

Plus, I think I’ve become suspicious of all A-list action-romances since The Lost City and Shotgun Wedding, which were both pretty ‘mid’ (as my son would say).

But, hey Mikey, I liked it!

And if you got that reference, you might just be old enough to know the t.v. show this movie is based on.

The Fall Guy is the story of stunt man Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling), who’s making a comeback after a near career-ending back injury, working on a film by first-time director Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) — who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend. While filming in Sydney, Colt tries to win Jody back, but things get complicated when he’s pulled into the mystery of the film’s missing star.

Here is what I liked…

It’s a sweet romance

The romance here is not high-drama or high-conflict, things I generally prefer. It’s not tropey.

Even in the middle of this absurd story, the romance is kind of… realistic?  Colt and Jody act like fairly normal human beings throughout – they fall for each other in a very normal way and break up in a normal way. Neither hides what they’re feeling, which isn’t standard for pure romance stories. We know pretty much from scene one that these two are in love.

And they pretty quickly make up. The only real conflict after that is derived from the external story.

But, it works. It isn’t complicated, but it is sweet.

And fun. There’s some nice banter and an entertaining scene when Jody airs her beefs via megaphone, in the guise of explaining the movie’s romantic plot, while having Colt repeat a difficult fire stunt over and over.

Their past relationship is shown is short flashbacks that are very effective: scenes of the pair laughing together, or cuddled against each other in the cab of his truck while Colt does doughnuts.

Ultimately, they seem to belong together – which is a fundamental element of any successful romance.

It’s action-packed, but the action serves the romance

Action and romance may seem like strange bedfellows, but they can actually complement each other very well. After all, going through a conflict can deepen a bond, or make lovers realize their true priorities.

The Fall Guy does a particularly good job of merging action with romance.

Colt initially takes the stunt job so he can be near Jody. Then when production on the film might be halted or cancelled due to a mystery involving the film’s star actor, he agrees to get involved for Jody’s sake, to protect her fledgling directing career. 

So every scene – and every stunt – is really just Colt defending Jody.

It all feels very… chivalrous.

So is Jody a mere object for him to defend? Kind of.

But, the filmmakers were careful to include some action scenes for her, as well. Plus, she’s a key part in planning and executing the final (long and loud) action sequence.

And maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think it’s okay for a man to defend a woman sometimes.

It features a modern hero, who resolves the romantic conflict by being vulnerable

During a key boat chase where Colt is being pursued by the baddies and thinks he might die, he calls Jody and explains to her why he ghosted her in their earlier relationship.

He explains how being unable to work as a stuntman crushed him, and made him feel worthless and unworthy. He says it’s stuntman culture to always give a ‘thumbs-up’ at the end of a stunt, no matter how bad you’re hurting, so he couldn’t admit how devastated he felt.

It’s quite a powerful moment, and shows that Colt is a very modern hero, in touch with his emotions (in the end) and willing to resolve his problems by being vulnerable at last.

And I like the explicit reference to the stuntman mentality. That moment connects the romantic conflict of the story back to the world of stuntmen, who have to act invincible to get through an average work day.

To me, it also reminded me of the mindset required in all of those dangerous (and often male-dominated) professions – like law enforcement or the military – that require their workers to act unbreakable, to exhibit no fear and no vulnerability in order to survive.

Touching on this issue gives the movie some depth and is quite moving.

You’ll come out of it feeling like a filmmaking insider

The Fall Guy is set wholly during the filming of a science fiction movie. And seeing what  happens behind the scenes in this film-within-a-film is kind of cool.

There’s the atmosphere of the shoot, the rapport between the crew members, the setup for the stunts, the stunt dog, the trailers, etc. And it’s a bonus that the film’s director is a woman.

And there’s the behind the scenes of the stunts themselves, only possible within the film-within-a-film context.

The Fall Guy’s director, David Leitch, states explicitly in the film’s intro (yes, movies have intros now) that this film is a love letter to the stunt community.

So there’s no shortage of bombs, car jumps, car wrecks, car rolls, car and boat chase scenes, high falls, knife fights, helicopter wrassling, and more.

One of the stunts actually broke the world record for total number of car rolls. (The record is now eight and a half.)

And seeing all those stunts from that ‘insider’ POV is enlightening, and certainly made me appreciate stuntmen more. (Mission accomplished, Mr. Leitch.)

It’s a treasure-trove of 80’s t.v. action tropes

I didn’t really get why this movie was based on a t.v. show – I mean, with its vulnerable modern hero and fairly specific film-within-a-film scenario, I can’t imagine it resembles the show it was based on very closely.

My guess is, explicitly connecting the movie to the show served as an added homage to stuntmen, since the show was all about a stunt man, and maybe to avoid any claims of plagiarism.

Embracing the connection also allowed the filmmakers to tap into all those lovely, silly 80’s action tropes. For example, there’s a:

  • Car jump over a large chasm
  • Corpse left on ice in a bathtub
  • Cheesy, complicated bad-guy murder-framing storyline that’s fit for 80’s t.v. – Colt is even tied to a chair at one point, while the villain explains to him his whole plan and motivation
  • Surplus of action, when its not really needed to resolve the plot
  • Groan-worthy boat chase that somehow goes undetected by police — I guess the Sydney Harbour police were too busy carting Ben and Bea from Anyone But You around to respond to all that. (Yes. That’s an inside joke just for those of you who’ve seen Anyone But You.)

They even explicitly reference Miami Vice more than once.

Conclusion

The Fall Guy is a sweet, modern, refreshing action-romance (act-rom?).

The action is engaging – even for someone like me, who’s not usually that interested in pure action movies – because it’s motivated by the romance, and because of the insider view it presents.

I think it’s worth a look!

Here’s an interesting article about how and why it ‘bombed’ at the box office.

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