Fuck The fucking Notebook. If you like being emotionally manipulated while looking at Ryan Gosling's chest and sobbing every time Gena Rowlands is on screen, then, fine, that movie is for you. But when it comes to the Gosling oeuvre, there are way better ways to get your jollies.
Ryan Gosling excels when he is shirking the role of loverman and goes full freak. His only Oscar nod for his role as a crack-addicted school teacher in Half Nelson and his work in Blue Valentine requires a billion "Hey Girl" memes to get you back in his good graces. (But, goddamn, can he wear a Misfits t-shirt. Also, this.) Lars and the Real Girl beams with sweetness, even though it's about being in love with a sex doll. It is also, surprisingly, unpretentious, despite being one of the whitest movies ever made. Still, most of his filmography is littered with portrayals of bad, bad men: A blood-lusty getaway driver, a self-loathing neo-Nazi Jew and a bunch of murderers. One of his most overlooked roles was as David Marks in All Good Things. Marks' character is based on Robert Durst, a former New York City reality heir and alleged murderer.
On February 8, HBO will debut The Jinx: The Life and Death of Robert Durst, a six-part docu-series directed by Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans). Durst was accused of killing his wife Kathleen McCormick after she went missing in 1982. He also reportedly had his friend Susan Berman executed in 2000 when McCormick's case was reopened. Jarecki was also the director of All Good Things, so he not only has a good grasp of Durst's life, he was able to flip Noah Calhoun into a character so quietly cold-blooded. In honor of The Jinx, here's a look at the Baby Goose as a subtle psycho who stomps dudes out, manipulates people and rages at women.
All Good Things
A casual Gosling consumer may not know how well he can do soft-spoken, something he played a lot early in his career (see: Stay. Actually, don't see it. It's abysmal). As David Marks, he carries a understated coldness and has a tight grasp on the specific subtleties of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What's most disturbing about his character's change from nurturing husband who distances himself from his reality tycoon family to open a health food store with his wife (Kirsten Dunst) to someone so aggravated by female agency that he bursts. After Dunst's Katie disappears, Marks flees to Texas where he lives as a silent cross-dresser charming enough to influence his neighbor to do his dirty work (more murder!). This is one of Gosling's boldest character choices.
The self-hating Jew trope goes a little bit too far in The Believer. Gosling's Daniel Balint is a boots-and-braces former yeshiva student turned Neo-Nazi. His hatred is so impressive, he's invited by underground anti-semitic group to their Vermont retreat and convinces them that murdering Jewish people outside of moral grounds is fine. Balint grapples with his former religious past by beating people on the street, antagonizing diners in a Kosher deli and teaching classes on, well, how to be a racist dickfuck. The character is based on former KKK member Daniel Burros who committed suicide after being exposed as a Jew in a New York Times profile. It was one of Gosling's first film roles after eschewing his Disney past. The man still loves the Mouse, but his ability to play so demonically evil is so on point in this film, it's hard to not believe.
It's possible that the best thing about Drive is the story of Gosling and the film's director Nicolas Winding Refn. The story goes that Refn was zooted on cold meds when they met to discuss the role and the dinner went poorly. On the ride home, Refn sobbed uncontrollably when REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" came on the radio. It was also when he had the eureka moment that Gosling's getaway driver character would be a quiet loner obsessed with cruising L.A. late at night, listening to pop music. But the privacy of those moments are way private: We never see them. Instead, we're exposed to the manifestation of The Driver's internal wickedness. He slaps the pink out of Christina Hendricks before her head is blown off in a fantastic Cronenbergian fashion. There's a strip club thug who gets spared a hammer-and-nail to the head in favor of being forced to swallow a bullet. And, as they say, of course sometimes shit goes down when there's a billion dollars on elevator:
Drive is supposed to be an homage to Pretty Woman, but Gosling's Man As Savior steez here is avenging the murder of his neighbor's husband. And destroying everyone who stands in his way.
Only God Forgives
But, there is nothing likeable about Gosling in this flick. His character Julian runs a muay Thai boxing lounge as a front for his family's drug smuggling ring. After his brother is murdered for raping a prostitute, their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) demands that Julian avenge his death. If you're familiar with Refn's work, you know dude loves over-the-top gore and Only God Forgives has some of the most grotesque scenes of torture and guts. Gosling's character is racked with mommy issues and an obsession with strippers. (Tiny bit of real talk here: Even if this violent, woman-hating movie is not your thing, you cannot front on Kristin Scott Thomas as a Dontella Versace-like Real Housewife of Bangkok.) In Drive, Refn had Gosling as the arbiter of barbarity, but he is the worst when he is screaming at his girlfriend Mai on the street to take off her dress and choking her against a wall. The finale is an Oedipal fantasia replete with Julian pulling his mom's uterus out of her body. Heavy-handed? Sure! But sinister as fuck? Absolutely.
Gosling is at his best when he plays powerful. But if you need a reminder why to love him, here's a video of Young Gosling (and Justin Timberlake and J.C. Chasez!) singing Jodeci's "Cry for You" on The Mickey Mouse Club.
Claire Lobenfeld is a music and culture writer, TV recapper and amateur basketball journalist living in New York.
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