In the late 2000s, the name Ryan Gosling was synonymous with the heartthrob type. While he acted in numerous films that challenged that persona (particularly Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl), the minimization of his work due to his appearance was unshakeable. Even as he portrayed isolated and broken men, the playboy-lover roles of Crazy, Stupid Love and The Notebook were too commercially successful to ignore. Calling him your favorite actor assumed you had an attraction to him, and trying to define him as a serious one was difficult. Now, Gosling is one of the most celebrated actors amongst critics’ circles and has taken on roles that challenge the mainstream perception of himself. With his most recent work and an unexpected break from acting, he has redefined his craft.
With the obvious exceptions of La La Land and cable favorites like Gangster Squad, Gosling has consistently taken on darker, moodier roles with little dialogue. These roles have allowed him to showcase his talent and define himself as a “serious actor”. While some may see his acting abilities as weak and limited, his darker films have proven his talents to a more serious film audience. With little dialogue and focus on facial expressions, Gosling has solidified himself as one of the great screen actors of our time.
A film that made me more interested in Gosling as an actor was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. In Drive, Gosling embodies a character type he has become synonymous with. In Drive, he’s quiet, short-tempered, and violent. He shows a range of emotions while maintaining a relatively straight face. The lack of forward, expressive dialogue allows Gosling to put his acting style to the forefront. He moves us through body language.
One of my favorite scenes in the Drive is the elevator scene. Without any dialogue, Gosling shows the versatility of his character. Throughout the film, he is a muted romantic who seems to have a disconnected view of life. The Driver’s life is changed when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and finds opportunities to protect her as a way of showing his love.
In the elevator, the Driver stands in front of Irene, eyeing the gun another man carries in his waistcoat. Instinctively, he pushes her to the corner of the elevator while facing the opposite way. He then kisses her, comforting her before his violent actions. The swiftness of the movements shows emotional confidence, which we hadn’t seen in the character before. His eyes linger on her afterward, looking down apologetically. As his kiss with Irene was his last moment of bliss before he beats the other man in the elevator with them. As Irene leaves, he turns to her with an embarrassed expression, as his violent tendencies were exposed to her. He knows she will never look at him the same way, or ever feel affection.
The film that truly proved Gosling’s talent to me was Blade Runner 2049. A film I had dreaded watching due to its length was one that changed my entire outlook on acting. In the film, Gosling portrays K, a troubled replicant who stumbles upon a secret that relates to his family origins. His minimal acting style conveys the film’s messages of existentialism perfectly. The film’s most memorable scene shows a gigantic hologram of Joi (Ana De Amas) comforting K. This scene changes K’s character completely, showing a new side of him to the audience. Throughout the film, he was known as a secretive and icy person, despite being the protagonist. After his relationship with his personal version of Joi is broken, he finds himself alone with the hologram of her once again. Although there isn’t a line of dialogue of his, Gosling shows the complete breakdown of a character.
When he first sees her, K looks at her in a melancholy way. His eyes become slightly squinted, showing how he longs for her. While Joi remarks on his loneliness his eyes stray from her as if he’s dismissing her completely. His eyes turn somber and his face becomes nearly blank as he realizes his isolation. His eyes don’t acknowledge Joi again until she compliments him on his human-like qualities. This relieves him of his exclusion from society and reminds him of the pleasure she once brought him. As she moves away, his face lowers and his eyes fall to the floor, once again acknowledging his loss.
This scene is pivotal to the plot of Blade Runner 2049 as it shows a new side of K’s character. The first time I watched this scene, I was floored by its moving display of complex emotions. Gosling’s acting creates a rollercoaster of joy, loneliness, and heartbreak all in 83 seconds. While Gosling has only been nominated for an Oscar twice, I feel that he deserved one for Blade Runner 2049. His performance was so touching and layered, I can’t cite another performance that has hit me as hard as his. Gosling’s other roles in Only God Forgives and First Man all take on the muted and internally conflicted characters he does so well. Not to ignore his comedic roles in The Nice Guys and La La Land, as his versatility is also a testament to his acting skills. Years ago, Ryan Gosling was a mere pretty face in Hollywood who the public slightly resented because of his frequent roles as romantic leads. Now, he’s appreciated in film circles more than ever and has proven himself as one of the best actors working today. Not only has he redefined his own acting, but his career as well. Gosling is a driving force in modern Hollywood, and with his upcoming return to acting, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down.