I tried. I really tried. Hard. I looked deep into his immobile emotionless face looking for clues, looking for signs of acting greatness, anything that told me I was watching a big-screen performer who, one day, will be acknowledged as one of the greatest to rival Marlon Brando (pre-Godfather) or Daniel Day Lewis (any of his movies but particularly My left Foot, Gangs of New York, and There Will Be Blood) but no… Ryan Gosling’s performance in the much-awaited 2017 movie, Blade Runner 2049, left me cold.
Even when faced with his virtual holographic girlfriend, Joi, played by the absolutely gorgeous Cuban actress Ana de Armas, Gosling’s character, Officer KD9-3.7, remained impassive. I mean, the girl is about to sync up with a gorgeous-looking replicant, Mariette (a pleasure model specially equipped to heighten the pleasures of carnal pursuits, played by Mackenzie Davis), in order to have proper sex with Officer K. He just stares. There’s no anticipation, no twitch of an eyelid, no slight licking of a lip, nothing, nada, nowt. Jeez, the guy is about to get laid by two of the most beautiful women on the planet and he just stares!
Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to the 1982 movie Blade Runner, the movie that initially bombed at the box office but has since become a must-see cult movie if you are into science fiction themes and particularly the works of author Philip K Dick, one of the giants of mid-twentieth-century science fiction writing. Blade Runner, based on Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, tells the story of the evolution of replicants (bioengineered androids) who, ultimately, turn rogue and seek to overthrow their human creators. Harrison Ford played Rick Deckard, a plainclothes human bounty hunter known colloquially as a blade runner, whose job is to seek out and ‘retire’ rogue replicants who have escaped from their off-world colonies and returned to Earth to start a revolution. The 1982 movie explores concepts of humans versus androids and, in particular, whether androids could ever evolve to possess human attributes such as empathy, anxiety, reasoning, and even love both sexual and in its pure form. Blade Runner, the original movie, introduced many layers of complexity about the nature of humanity and androidism and opened up questions about coexistence and relationships. Deckard, the hero of the film, falls in love with an attractive seemingly human female called Rachael (played by Sean Young) who turns out to be a replicant and he decides that she is definitely not for retiring; more for embracing. In fact, they sail off into the sunset, hand in hand, and, as is revealed in the 2017 sequel, had a child, maybe two.
Now, this is revolutionary; a human and a replicant procreating, and Blade Runner 2049 is all about the search to find the child, either to retire it (Officer K’s job under orders) or exploit it (the evil corporation’s job in order to create a vast off-world workforce). I won’t say more about the plot but, as you can imagine, the movie is full of chases, amazing sets, incredible computer-generated imagery, and a plot that unravels slowly but surely over its 2 hours 43 minutes run time, a marathon viewing time by anybody’s reckoning.
So, back to Ryan Gosling. Make no mistake. He is the star male lead. On his shoulders rests the mantle of blade-running inheritance. He needed to stand in Harrison Ford’s shoes and rise above Ford’s performance as the enigmatic Rick Deckard thirty-five years ago. And he fails. Oh, the action scenes are good but his reaction to the many and varied situations he finds himself in is just to stare vacantly into space. It’s weird. I know he’s playing a very advanced replicant, specially designed to sniff out and retire older model rogue replicants, but surely he could show just a glimmer of emotion as he acts out his part. I don’t know; maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the film’s director, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario 2015, Arrival 2016) gave Gosling strict instructions to freeze all face muscles while filming the scenes? “Botox ’em, Ryan. You’re a replicant.” Maybe, but I’ve watched Gosling in other movies, notably Gangster Squad (2013) and the absolutely abysmally bad Only God Forgives (also 2013). After Only God Forgives, I vowed never to watch another film ‘starring’ Ryan Gosling and thus I allowed last year’s blockbuster, La La Land, to pass me by. I like Emma Stone (she’s the female lead in La La Land and, by the way, is terrific in her latest movie, Billie Jean King) but I’m not really into musicals. I like movies for guys who like movies* and sugary musicals tend not to make this category.
(* Movies for guys who like movies was the tagline of the American Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) network and used to be on American television during the years 1999 to 2002. In those years, I travelled often to the USA and watched many fine action movies as I lay jet-lagged and unable to sleep in my hotel room. It was a great tagline and watching the movies helped pass the time. Nearly all the action heroes smiled, even as they retired the bad guys.)
Maybe I should try La La Land. Images from the movie show Gosling smiling, something he definitely does not do in Blade Runner 2049, so maybe beneath his inscrutable wooden demeanour there lurks a real human but, for now, he’s back on the don’t-watch-any-movies-starring-this-actor list, alongside Keanu Reeves, Channing Tatum and Marlon Brando (after his mumbling performance in the Godfather, followed by his lacklustre performance in Superman)
If you enjoyed the original 1982 Blade Runner movie, Blade Runner 2049 is a must-see if only to find out what happened to the child and whether it was retired. I recommend you read the Wikipedia synopsis of the original movie before watching the sequel to refresh on who’s who and the storyline in general, and I recommend you ‘make yourself comfortable’ if you plan on watching the movie in one session. 163 minutes is a long time to be seated, glued to the screen, waiting for Ryan Gosling to smile and here’s the one spoiler. He doesn’t!