Ryan Gosling: A Viewer’s Guide

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Ryan Gosling is, to borrow from Zoolander, so hot right now. How hot? Well, even in the company of fellow movie meteors like Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy, the one-two of Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love, and the release of political thriller The Ides Of March, will make him the brightest star in the firmament for the next few months – and probably a whole lot longer. The two films couldn’t be more different, flaunting a dazzling range to go with those chiselled features and musical talent. Sure the accent may have floated about down the years, but the charisma and talent have been evident from those long-forgotten Disney days. To mark his return to our screens, we’ve assembled some of the Canadian’s finest moments.

ESSENTIAL VIEWING: Blue Valentine (2011)

As good as Ryan Gosling is as Crazy, Stupid, Love’s hollowed-out lothario – and he pinches the film from under heavyweight co-stars – his romantic tour de force was in a very different kind of relationship movie. How Blue Valentine didn’t reap him the Oscar recognition his on-screen partner Michelle Williams garnered is for the Academy to know and us to guess at. The pair are equally terrific as a disintegrating couple who fall in and out of love to a chorus of ukulele, shouty abuse and broken glass. It’s the nearest thing to a horror movie on Gosling’s CV; a heartbreaking dissection of a failing marriage, captured Method-style by Derek Cianfrance. The director’s insistence that Gosling and Williams punctuated the film’s ‘before’ and ‘after’ chapters by spending a month living under the same roof probably added authenticity to the petty bickering – we’d love to have been a fly on the wall when they were budgeting groceries – but the ferocious fight scenes in the odd-ball themed hotel show two actors at the top of their game.

ESSENTIAL VIEWING: Half Nelson (2006)

It’s safe to say that, for all his good qualities, heroin-hooked middle school teacher Dan Dunne probably wouldn’t have made it into the Mickey Mouse Club. Gosling, though, has always been happier delving into less wholesome – and riskier - territory than his fellow Disney alumni, and Dunne is a reminder of his mastery of morally-conflicted characters. He’s terrific throughout, always believable whether battling for the soul of a lonely student (Shareeka Epps) or smoking crack in the school bathrooms, and picked up a richly-deserved Oscar nomination for his troubles. Forest Whitaker pipped him, terrifying the Academy with his portrayal of Idi Amin, but the Kodak Theatre will be hearing from Gosling again. Count on it.


Gosling’s ‘Driver’ may not have the growly presence or Mount-Rushmore features of other nameless movie monoliths, and he probably couldn’t beat Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood in a fight either (he doesn’t even carry a gun), but he definitely matches them for pure, inscrutable cool. This pulsing, ‘80s-homaging thriller gives him minimal dialogue to work with, but plenty of opportunity to explore the darker side of the human psyche – as well as a stupidly fast Chevy Impala to drive. The project was Gosling’s baby and his pick of Nicolas Winding Refn as director turned out to be inspired. The star’s new-found cachet enabled the Danish auteur to realise his glossy, ultra-violent vision without interference, while Refn constructs a neon netherland that Gosling’s Steve McQueen-like getaway driver inhabits like a ghost. It’s more proof that Gosling isn’t a man who reads from the Hollywood playbook. He even does his own stunts in the film - a surefire way to give studio accountants a coronary.

RECOMMENDED: The Believer (2001)

The role that, as he puts it, “gift-wrapped my career”, The Believer is Gosling’s American History X, a blistering turn as skinhead that got his picture onto a lot of casting directors’ desks and helped the film to a Sundance gong. His equivalent to Edward Norton's Derek Vineyard, a young student called Danny Balint, is fuelled by an anti-Semitism that’s just as explosive. The difference? He’s Jewish. The fallout of this scouring depiction of a cerebral, violently self-hating Jew meant that no US distributor would touch it, leaving Gosling’s startlingly complex performance largely undiscovered. He spits his character’s hideous ideas with a raw intensity (“Take the greatest Jewish minds ever”, snarls Balint at one point, “Marx, Freud, Einstein… what have they given us? Communism, infantile sexuality and the atom bomb”) and projects a combustible mix of tight-coiled rage and a razor-sharp intellect. As gift wrap goes, it’s probably not something you’d want to find under your Christmas tree.

FOR THE FAN: The Notebook (2004)

We put this in the ‘For the Fan’ bracket knowing that it’s a pretty big category. Huge. Ginormous. In fact, The Notebook’s army of devout fans could beat Gosling’s other fans to death and be home in time to weep gently into their pillows. And for good reason: Baby Goose pulls hard on the heartstrings as the big-hearted Noah, a smart kid who endures prejudice and the hairiest meet-cute this side of Titanic to win the heart of Rachel McAdams’ lovelorn Southern belle. Unfortunately, the war happens and he loses it again. Cue one of the most glorious gestures in movie history. The first and comfortably the best of the Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations, it’s undeniably mushy but hugely charming - a romance that will have all but the most stony-hearted reaching for a hankie. That muttering sound you heard, though, was men everywhere cursing. He builds her a house for Pete’s sake! Flowers would never be enough again.

ONE TO MISS: The United States Of Leland (2003)

Gosling’s nose for interesting materials has kept him clear of anything approaching a turkey so far in his 15-year Hollywood career, although this turgid misfire runs pretty close in the poulty stakes. It’s a big stew of movie cliches with Gosling’s young offender, Leland Fitzgerald, giving everyone around him ample opportunity to examine their own lives and reach the inevitable conclusion that, no, they definitely shouldn’t be in this movie. The notion that the amnesia-struck, enigmatic Leland is unknowable, and therefore his murder of an autistic boy is in some way unjudgeable, translates into a lot of vacant looks from Gosling. It’s definitely not his finest moment, although a fine cast – Kevin Spacey, Don Cheadle, Michelle Williams included – struggles equally with the stodgy material. Still, he got an early opportunity to work with Williams and things worked out rather better second time out.

RECOMMENDED: Lars And The Real Girl (2007)

Like Truman Burbank or Rain Man's Raymond Babbitt, the protagonist of this quirky comedy is a likeable outsider with, to the untrained eye at least, some pretty weird tics. Like in-a-relationship-with-a-sex-toy weird. He could be a figure of fun yet Gosling gives him a sweet innocence that carries the film through potential icky terrain. Sure, Lars doesn't sleep with his internet-bought 'Real Girl', and the locals have a Pleasantville-like willingness to play along with his delusion, but Gosling's naive charm lends a fairy tale-sweetness that leavens a movie with has plenty to say about the way people interact - not all of them positive. Plus, that moustache is proof that he can negotiate some pretty leftfield facial furniture too.