Ryan Gosling: A Career of Unfulfilled Potential?

"Drive" Photocall - 64th Annual Cannes Film FestivalWith Only God Forgives hitting the big screen this week (in the UK) and being Ryan Gosling’s last film (bar an untitled Terrence Malik film) before his acting sabbatical it seems appropriate to reflect on the Hollywood superstar’s career so far, notably whether he should stop acting at this point in time.

Ryan Gosling announced his intention to take a sabbatical from acting and concentrate on directing duties in the foreseeable future a few months ago.

Gosling stated ‘I need a break from myself as much as I imagine the audience does’ in reference to his recent flurry of lead on screen appearances in the last two years, notably Drive, The Ides of March, A Place Beyond The Pines and Gangster Squad.

Although Gosling has been in the acting spotlight since he was a youngster in the Mickey Mouse Club, along with fellow alumni Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, it is only recently he has broken into the Hollywood ‘A-List’ so why at the tender age of 32 as he indefinitely called time on the prime of his career?

As well as honestly admitting to AP Entertainment that he had been over exposed  Gosling candidly expressed his dislike of the always being the lead man: ‘There’s a lot of pressure to be the lead of a film,’ he says. ‘I have done it. It’s not my favourite way to work.’

The Canadian native has been almost exclusively taking on challenging main roles since his 2001 break in The Believer where he controversially played a Jewish Neo-Nazi based on true events. Gosling’s willing to take on unconventional characters has become something of a hallmark of his acting career with notably strange parts in Lars and the Real Girl and Half Nelson; playing a man in love with a blow-up doll and a drug addicted school teacher respectively.

Although Gosling’s frank admissions about his profession so far are admirable one must ask whether he has made the right choice to disappear from the silver screen at the peak of his powers. Idolized by woman and envied by men Gosling is so popular that his semi-retirement prompted website Blinkbox to set up the “Gosline” for upset fans to seek counselling about their heroes hiatus. Such excessive measures are just one indicator of the actor’s ability to straddle the line between appeasing a cult following while having continued mainstream success.

Not only is Gosling’s decision a blow to his adoring fans but potentially damaging for his acting future. Granted he has taken on challenging roles that many of his contemporaries would shy away from, for fear of damaging their image, yet his acting style has left much to be desired at times.

Often his roles comprise him of being an out of touch loner leaving to his characters being shy on dialogue or depth. There is no doubting he is a talented but at times it feels as if he is playing the same role in each film; isolated figures of Drive, Lars and Half Nelson could almost be interchangeable at times. Compared to other famous movie loners; James Dean, Clint Eastwood and De Niro Gosling cuts a hollow figure lacking that extra dimension to push him to a higher level.

His recent performances as more ordinary protagonists in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad have left a lot to be desired past his ice cool persona on the surface. Maybe his acknowledgement that ‘I’ve lost perspective on what I’m doing’ is in reference to his difficult transition to the main man of Hollywood and loss of integrity in his current unadventurous performances. Saying this he was part of the mostly excellent A Place Beyond the Pines even though he did wheel out the sort of the performance he is synonymous with.

A move into direction with How to Catch a Monster could be the break Gosling needs to revaluate his acting career and come back with a new found hunger. Leonardo DiCaprio also announced that he too is taking a break from acting, Ryan Gosling would do well to take the Inception star’s lead as someone who has managed to establish himself as one of the best actors around with inspired and varied roles in Shutter Island to Django Unchained and Revolutionary Road.

With early reviewers far from taken with the ultra-violent Only God Forgives (I’ll be reviewing it this weekend on here) it would seem to be another mixed result for Gosling’s repertoire.

 There’s little doubt in Gosling’s willing to be different, going against his ‘A-list’ trappings by constantly choosing a host of intriguing roles, yet there is undeniably something missing, that something that will push him above his peers and make him a truly great screen icon. Perhaps his move into directing will rejuvenate his outlook on acting, a catalyst to move him away from his typecast violent, silent, loner persona he loves to don. Regardless of these reservations he will be missed by audiences, Gosling manages to contain that air of mystery and gravitas that eludes much of Hollywood’s elite these days- if his acting can mirror his ice cool persona then he’ll be go on to be one of Cinema’s modern era icons, there is little doubt about that.

He’s got the looks, the profile, the persona it’s just the roles, or more aptly put his approach to them, that needs to change in order for Gosling to attain his staggering potential.