What are we to make of Ryan Gosling? In certain ways, he’s one of the premier actors of his generation — the thinking woman’s sex symbol, the heartthrob who actually cares about his craft, with the mix of cool, intelligence, and vulnerability that we associate with A-list leading men. Yet he’s made disappointingly few movies that are actually successful as movies, rather than as showcases for his magnetism and dramatic chops.
It’s not for want of trying: Gosling has appeared in a lot of interesting small films and a lot of respectable bigger ones, and he’s single-handedly made flawed experiments more watchable and elevated trashy melodramas above their station. But none of his movies has united critics and audiences in the way that true stardom usually requires. So while it feels like he could end up in the same league as Nicholson, Pacino, and Newman, his filmography doesn’t merit those comparisons. He’s been headlining movies for more than a decade, but he’s still waiting for a Chinatown or Cuckoo’s Nest, a Godfather or Serpico, a Butch Cassidy or Cool Hand Luke.