Film Review of the Week


The Fall Guy (12A)

Review: I have fond childhood memories from the early 1980s of the rough-and-tumble TV show The Fall Guy starring Lee Majors as a revered film stuntman, who side hustles as a bounty hunter using the daredevil skills he has honed in front of a camera. Stunt performer turned director David Leitch’s crowd-pleasing action comedy pays tribute to the TV series and the wider community of gifted action artists who take body blows for big-name actors but publicly receive none of the credit for their bone-crunching work.

The Barbenheimer rivalry of last summer is laid to rest with the delightfully kenergetic on-screen double-act of Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt as estranged former lovers, who realise pride and bruised egos come before a trust and fall back into each other’s arms. Screenwriter Drew Pearce keeps the duo apart for prolonged periods, which is a misstep, and he peppers the script with in-jokes about Hollywood and its profit-driven practices, particularly in the irreverent depiction of a fictional action star whose list of high-octane credits includes Hot Earth, Silence Day, Annihilation Of Valour and Bad Cop, Good Dog.

Stunts are breathtaking, such as performer Logan Holladay’s world record-breaking 8.5 cannon rolls in a car and a dizzying fight inside a spinning metal skip that is being dragged behind a lorry through the streets of Sydney. Gosling bravely falls backwards 12 storeys in the bravura opening sequence, shot in a single take to shepherd us through the organised chaos of a movie set. He plays veteran stuntman Colt Seavers, who abruptly severs ties with the film industry after breaking his back while performing a daredevil fall in place of Hollywood action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The near-fatal accidental, which Colt insists was his fault, also sounds a death knell for an on-set romance with one of the film’s camera operators, Jody Moreno (Blunt).

Out of the blue, film executive Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), who produces Ryder’s blockbusters, phones Colt and implores him to get on an airplane to Australia to double for her arrogant star in the bombastic sci-fi epic Metalstorm. The film is dangerously over budget, behind schedule and just happens to be Jody’s directorial debut. Working alongside good friend and action choreographer Dan Tucker (Winston Duke), Colt turns the film’s fortunes around with his heroic efforts. “Save Jody’s film and maybe you get the love of your life back,” teasingly suggests Gail.

The Fall Guy is a slave to two demanding masters (adrenaline-pumping action and goofy romance) but doesn’t fully satisfy either. In their limited shared screen time, Gosling and Blunt are fiercely entertaining and anchor some of the film’s wackier moments including a hare-brained finale. End credits conceal behind-the-scenes footage and an affectionate nod to the small screen inspiration for this love letter to the stunt community.

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Love Lies Bleeding (15)

Review: London-born filmmaker Rose Glass made an auspicious feature directorial debut in 2020 with Saint Maud, a riveting portrait of religious fervour and sexual awakening set against the brightly lit arcades of a nameless British seaside resort. For her follow-up, Glass treks across the Atlantic to a remote town in New Mexico to conjure an erotically charged 1980s-set thriller co-written by Weronika Tofilska that recalls the Coen brothers’ early crime capers. Desire and deceit are sweat-drenched bedfellows in Love Lies Bleeding, which stokes discomfort with Ben Fordesman’s moody cinematography and composer Clint Mansell’s insistent, propulsive score.

Kristen Stewart delivers a fearless central performance as the emotionally scarred product of a violent upbringing, who craves escape from her unedifying reality. She begins Glass’s picture unclogging a blocked toilet and cleans up far bigger and bloodier messes as emotions spiral out of control. Bold stylistic flourishes connected to the bulging physicality of Katy O’Brian’s steroid-fuelled bodybuilder distinguish a fraught second half that feels like a runaway train poised to derail. It’s to Glass’s credit that the wheels don’t come off entirely as swooning sweethearts become accomplices to diabolical deeds under the noses of FBI agents. Credulity lies badly wounded next to love.

Socially awkward gym manager Lou Langston (Stewart) is estranged from her controlling father Lou Sr (Ed Harris), owner of the local shooting range. The FBI suspects the patriarch murdered his wife and needs Lou to provide damning testimony. Instead, she focuses on the gym and politely rebuffs amorous advances from a girl named Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov). Lou’s gaze is drawn to nomadic newcomer Jackie Cleaver (O’Brian), who is en route to a bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas.

Flirtation between the women kindles an all-consuming romance and Lou offers Jackie steroids to finesse her impressive physique ahead of her moment in the spotlight. Jackie becomes emotionally unstable from drug abuse and Lou’s physically violent brother-in-law JJ (Dave Franco) is one potential outlet for the simmering rage. Eventually, Jackie loses control and Lou becomes a willing accomplice to avoid a first date with the electric chair. “They’re gonna fry us for this!” she nervously informs Jackie.

Love Lies Bleeding puts Lou and Jackie through the wringer, punctuated by sex scenes that leave nothing to a febrile imagination and dramatically necessary explosions of gore. Stewart and O’Brian are a dynamic pairing and we root for the lovers as careless actions stack the odds heavily against them. Sporting a fine mullet, Harris chews scenery as he coolly eliminates loose ends, even if that means pulling a trigger close to home. The script runs out of steam as Jackie comes down from her steroid-intoxicated high but we already feel a deeply satisfying burn.

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