Ryan Gosling keeps you waiting… and waiting… and waiting. The best way to describe his acting style in recent years is that of calculated patience. That patience was not always there. When given his first opportunity at a meaty lead role as a Jewish Neo-Nazi (you read that correctly) in “The Believer”, there was no time to waste on long pauses and heavy stares. His character had a constant energy that never seemed to break. Unwilling to squander his first shot at the acting career he desperately wanted, Gosling didn’t let a moment on the screen pass without exercising what he could do. He was young and hungry and it showed.
Fast forward to 12 years later and the man who holds back almost every emotion in “Only God Forgives” is a very different person. Now, Ryan Gosling keeps you waiting. Best described as a jack-in-the-box, but instead of turning a crank we have the movie reel spinning through the projector. You know something is coming, you know the toy is in the box and it’s about to burst out, but he lets the anticipation build. He lets you see it in his eyes, only his eyes, as he pauses before he speaks or bites back on words entirely. Because language is limited but your imagination is limitless. He gives you the space to make up your own mind about the men he portrays, instead of making their every motivation crystal clear. And then the release comes as it is expected to, but because it had been kept from you for so long, the anxiety has reached a breaking point and he hits you exactly where he wants to. Right in the gut. That kind of patience, the unwillingness to perform like a ceaseless clapping monkey for your entertainment, has sometimes been described as the absence of any sort of acting at all. Instead of what it is, which is restraint. The restraint to only provide what the story and the character need in that moment, rather than sucking the air out of every scene and wanting to one-up your colleagues. Too often we reward bombastic, overly expressive performances rather than the performances that are simply about wearing the skin of the character and navigating them through the world the film creates.
Restraint and patience; these are the signs of a confident, intelligent and grounded actor who doesn’t seek to prove anything to an audience, a critic or an Academy. He’s not ambitious about his career, he’s passed on multi-million dollar franchises and commercial brands, and he has no ego to satisfy. Instead he has one simple goal. Ryan Gosling wants us to remember his characters and the stories they tell.