Literally since the dawn of cinema, action stunts have been a key part of the art form. Early movie stars were also stunt men, such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and the first hit film is arguably 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, one of the first action movies. Yet stunts remain one of the more hidden aspects of filmmaking—there are no famous stunt performers, and when done right, you shouldn’t notice stunts at all, as they are a key element in helping audiences immerse themselves in the world of a film, giving two-dimensional events visceral physical stakes.


The internet era of constantly reporting on the status of films, particularly blockbusters, has led to a wider understanding of how movies get made, though, and increasingly action movies are sold on the quality of their stunts (see also: Top Gun: Maverick, the John Wick franchise, the Mission: Impossible franchise). But yet, stunt performers remain out of the limelight—often deliberately overshadowed by actors who proclaim they do their own stunts—and there is no mainstream award recognizing the stunt community’s role in cinema.

Enter The Fall Guy. Ryan Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, a stuntman who doubles for blockbuster star and primo dipsh-t Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Colt is on top of the world, stunting in blockbusters and falling for camera operator Jody (Emily Blunt) when a devastating accident derails his whole life, tanking his career and his relationship with Jody. After a wilderness period, though, Colt is called back into action by super producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), who needs him to fill in for Tom Ryder, who has disappeared off the set of Jody’s directorial debut, a sci-fi epic called Metalstorm.


Look, The Fall Guy is based on an Eighties TV show about a stunt man who solves crimes, there’s a certain amount of silly baked in. But the film takes Metalstorm completely seriously as a movie-within-a-movie, showing how stunts are rigged and executed, and the constant danger stunt performers are in as they bring these epic scenes to life. Colt’s signature is a thumb’s up, a wider gesture within the stunt community meaning all good after every death-defying stunt. Colt looks cool in every action shot, but in the film-within-a-film context, we see the scars his work leaves on him mentally and physically, we see how he picks himself up every time, but that it takes real effort to keep going through the physical grind of stunting.


And yet! The Fall Guy is SUPER fun. Gosling is in full comedy mode, nailing every delivery and physical beat, and writer Drew Pearce and director David Leitch—himself a former stuntman—load the film with fun bits, ranging from running gags to mic-drop moments. And while Colt is doing the heavy lifting, action-wise, every character gets a feature beat. You think they’re going to waste Emily Blunt? Of course not. You think Winston Duke gets a free pass? Hell no. Is Stephanie Hsu getting in on the action? You know it. The action sequences are fun, funny, and for the most part, cleverly executed (there’s a drone bit I hate, but that’s because I hate drone shots, they’re overdone), and the film takes every opportunity to homage famously action-heavy films (the Dune callout is particularly funny and timely). 


The romance between Jody and Colt is also completely believable. Blunt and Gosling have great chemistry, you believe Colt and Jody are falling in love, just like you believe Jody’s hurt after Colt bails on her. One especially funny-clever scene uses the plot of Metalstorm to describe Jody’s devastation after their breakup, and the film is smart about how it depicts the emotional fallout of Colt’s “all good” attitude. The Fall Guy doesn’t shy away from the more negative implications of the “thumb’s up”, that being professionally “okay” can have downsides for the performers who must maintain that attitude. 

And the whole thing feels a bit like meta textually calling out the Academy to create a Best Stunt Design Oscar—the film actually awards the first-ever “stunt designer” credit to Chris O’Hara. There is an explicit reference to the lack of a stunt Oscar, but more, the film’s emphasis on how stunts are crafted, and the vital collaboration of stunt performers, makes The Fall Guy a two-hour campaign video for a stunt Oscar. It doesn’t get bogged down in Academy politics, but there is definitely a “name and shame” vibe in the film. (They also deride actors who say they do their own stunts.)


But in the end, this is an action comedy that feels like a throwback to when movies could be smart about their execution and dumb about their plot, and still be considered “good”. It’s a throwback to Road House and Speed and Point Break and Die Hard and Bullit, movies built on cool as much as they are craft, and films that live or die on the quality of their stunts. The Fall Guy really IS a love letter to the stunt community.

The Fall Guy is now playing exclusively in theaters.


Here's Emily at The Drew Barrymore Show yesterday in New York.