When it comes to Canadians in Hollywood, I can’t be the only one who constantly gets Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling mixed up. After all, they don’t just share a first name. They also share the same jawline, too; all clean cut, chiselled and handsome.
So, I was quite confused when they cast Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. I assumed that when it came to casting the hard-bitten hero of the future, they meant to call the other Ryan; you know, the one from Deadpool, not the fleet-footed, dance man from La La Land. But apparently not. Keeping it in the Canadian family, Quebec’s own Denis Villeneuve really did mean Ryan Gosling all along.
So, was he right? Was Sebastian the jazzman the right choice as the new Harrison Ford in one of the most hotly anticipated movie reboots since Star Wars? Surprisingly, it turns out that he was. In fact, it is Gosling’s performance that largely carries the film.
It’s easy to take the original Blade Runner for granted. You have to remember that its visionary world building and striking ideas of the future, which we have become so used to through its many imitators, had never been seen before Blade Runner. Until then, the future was accepted to be bright and shiny and made of white plastic, not dark and grimy like this. As Rutger Hauer famously said, in Ridley Scott’s mind, ‘the future was old’.
But of course, 2049 didn’t have that surprise element. If anything, Scott’s vision was always going to be a burden on the new film as it tried to live up to that level of awe and inspiration in a world that is full of lookalike sci-fi blockbusters. Just looking great was never going to be enough, and the triumph of style over substance that carried the first film was never going to carry the second one in the same way.
Enter Mr Gosling. In 2049, he carries a complicated plot with genuine charm and charisma while not losing sight of the gritty underbelly that makes Blade Runner tick. He is ruthless at his job yet caring in his home life, even if his partner is entirely artificial. You feel for him, you root for him and you ride the ups and downs of the story with him right through his identity crisis and out the other side.
Like the powered-up version of your favourite video game, Blade Runner 2049 has all the essential elements plus a few exciting new tricks up its sleeve. All the staggering scenery is still there, but it’s paired with some amazing lighting effects that somehow make Earth feel otherworldly. And of course, Ford makes his much talked about reappearance after 35 years, looking somehow a hundred years older for the experience. But this is undeniably Gosling’s film, and he doesn’t dance a step.
Far too many critics are fawning over the cinematography and production design of Blade Runner 2049 as if this is the emperor’s new movie. Sadly, in the process, they are missing out on a terrific performance that underlines the quality and versatility of an actor that many, including me, had dismissed as a disposable rom-com leading man. Of course, Gosling showing a gritty side won’t help at all in telling the two Ryans apart, but I’m OK with that.