The Fall Guy: a witty, action-packed tribute to stunt performers

Ryan Gosling stars as a stuntman attempting to win back his ex-girlfriend by joining the film crew of her directorial debut in a gag-filled meta-romcom from David Leitch that highlights film trickery in all its explosive glory.

Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers and Emily Blunt as Jody Moreno in The Fall Guy (2024)

In 1980, Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man offered a self-reflexive comic exposé of the fakery as well as the real stakes involved in Hollywood action cinema, its hero taking death-defying tumbles for a megalomaniac director. The digital age was on the way; today, audiences are only too savvy about the illusions that have become a wearying staple of blockbuster language. David Leitch’s genially flip The Fall Guy sets out to highlight the trickery, acknowledge that VFX has diluted the art of the thrill, and yet revive the faith, dazzling us with action sequences that look life-threateningly real. 

The ur-text is the TV series The Fall Guy (1981-86), in which Lee Majors played Colt Seavers, a movie stuntman who doubled as part-time law enforcer. Its country-styled theme song praised the unsung artists who stand in for supposedly intrepid stars: “I’m the unknown stuntman that makes Eastwood look so fine.” Here, Leitch – himself a former stunt artist and coordinator – celebrates the bravery, ingenuity and resilience of the people who routinely take the blows, or choreograph them. At the start, a long travelling shot follows Ryan Gosling’s Colt Seavers around a film set, right up to the long drop that lands him in hospital. En route, he banters with Tom Ryder, the narcissistic star who transparently lies about doing his own stunts: Leitch previously mocked such blowhards as writer and lead actor of the 2005 spoof Confessions of an Action Star (a.k.a. Sledge: the Untold Story).    

Following his Brad Pitt vehicle Bullet Train (2022), Leitch has come up with something comparably knowing and jazzy, but much more likeable, not least because of the romantic pairing of Gosling and Emily Blunt. On TV, Seavers had an admiring female sidekick called Jody, also a stunt performer; here, Jody has acquired big-time agency (and I don’t mean CAA) as a seasoned camera op directing her first movie, Metalstorm. At the start, she and the besotted Colt are an item, but after his injury, he shuns her; his motivation in joining Metalstorm’s crew, and searching for its AWOL star, is to win back Jody’s love.    
Action apart, The Fall Guy functions wittily as a meta-romcom in which both participants are well aware of the genre’s codes. None too happy to find her unreliable ex working on her set, Jody tells him the plot of her sci-fi romance between a space cowboy and an alien princess, which is really their story. Blunt delivers this routine with delicious ambiguity as both a rebuking cri de coeur and a sly public humiliation of Colt. Romcom tropes are worked through to bracingly tart effect: overt Notting Hill (1999) references, elegantly choreographed split-screen à la Rock and Doris in Pillow Talk (1959), Colt found sobbing to a Taylor Swift song.    

Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy (2024)

The action sequences are similarly canny, including an apartment-wrecking fight between Colt and a sword-wielding female assailant that recalls Burt Kwouk’s ambushes of Peter Sellers’ Clouseau; a manifestly CGI-flared nightclub fight, with Colt hallucinating flying sparks, is set up with a nod to the Dumbo (1941) ‘Pink Elephants’ sequence. But Leitch doesn’t always make the most of his action: a terrific car-and-truck chase is grievously diluted by cuts away to Jody.

Drew Pearce’s script sometimes tries too hard for in-jokey effect, and the humour often works better when it lets the viewer just pick up on it. The familiar warning not to believe what we see gets an up-to-the- minute update: facial scanning (so heatedly contested in the recent actors’ strike) and deepfakes are key to the Chandleresque investigation. The film finally shows its hand with an end-credits making-of sequence in which Gosling is undeniably (at least, one hopes undeniably) performing his own feats, with the aid, of course, of an expert stunt crew.    

The film’s leads are nothing if not jovially game. Gosling does a nonchalant variation on the comic register he developed in Shane Black’s similarly pitched The Nice Guys (2016). Here he transitions from strutting cool cat of the opening to humbled and heartbroken doofus out for redemption. Blunt matches him nicely, playing Jody hard-edged and inaccessible on set, then slipping into wryly quizzical mode as she flirt-taunts Colt. Hannah Waddingham also gives good value as a pushy, braying English producer: a slick-suited nightmare cross between Jerry Bruckheimer and Janet Street-Porter. They all bring characterful flesh-and- blood mischief to what could otherwise have been a calculated mirror game of reality and illusion.

The Fall Guy is in UK cinemas now.