As I researched Ryan Gosling’s filmography, I came across a little gem of a picture with Michael Pitt. I thought, whoa what is this Michael Pitt movie? And then I realized: Murder by Numbers from 2002. I own this; I desperately want to watch this now. Problem: it’s not on Netflix Instant and 8/9 of my DVD collection is at my house and not at my apartment. I probably haven’t watched it since at least 2004 because it isn’t one of those “I have to watch this over and over, show it to my friends” type of movie.
But I digress: This is a great movie to look at in terms of before these two actors became THE Ryan Gosling (like THE Bradley Cooper) and Jimmy Darmody. Regardless of the creepy killer factor (which would have attracted me to it) I am guessing that Ryan and Michael were really the driving force behind why I saw this in theaters. (But as I brush up, maybe Ben Chaplin as well…although I did not know Nick Offerman yet! And he was no Ron Effin’ Swanson then). And it is right about this time that Ryan would make the transition from former Mickey Mouse clubber to full-fledged star with The Notebook; Michael Pitt worked steadily as well but his breakout moment did not come later with his work on Boardwalk Empire.
But these fellas already had a special place in my heart: Ryan for Breaker High and Michael for his role as Henry on Dawson’s Creek.
I am not sure what I first saw with Ryan Gosling but, from his filmography, I started with Breaker High when my digital cable subscription included Encore’s WAM (it probably no longer plays these shows). Before BH he was involved in an episode of one of those shows my friends and I always reminisce about: Are you Afraid of the Dark? I am not sure if it was after school or during the summer, but I loved me some Canadian programming. Any and all episodes of Breaker High and Our Hero I could watch multiple times.
Whereas Breaker High was about kids attending high school on a cruise ship, Our Hero was about a girl who communicated her life lessons through zine form. Luckily, WAM tended to air them all over and over so I could get my fill (I mean, BH had 44 episodes total and OH had 26). I could never get into the other show they liked to air from New Zealand, The Tribe (funny how now I am part of my own Tribe), and generally judged it whenever it came on.
I distinctly remember that he was a prominent feature of a website I liked to go to for all my teen obsessions and that his gallery included a lot of shots from Young Hercules, although I never watched the show. When Murder by Numbers appeared on my radar, I was excited to see this new dark side. Most people would probably argue they first saw him in Remember the Titans, and while I most likely did know he was in it at the time, I have never been enthused by sports movies (sorry, Moneyball).
From there he became a household name with The Notebook and bona fide movie star as we all chanted “McAdams loves Gosling!” And he has appeared in many movies I have been motivated to see: Stay (well it has Ewan McGregor so…), Half Nelson (had award consideration), Fracture (probably something my Dad dragged me to), Lars and the Real Girl, and Blue Valentine. This man has been working steadily for years and making pretty good script choices. Well done. Moving on…
First of all, can we clear the air? Why is Dawson’s Creek no longer cool? Why do people look back and say, oh boy, I bet these guys don’t want us to mention their Dawson’s Creek days. They should be proud of it; compared to many teen shows, Dawson’s Creek was a ground breaker for dealing with many teen issues and it has produced more actors that continue to be significant and even A-listers than most other former teen shows combined. I could rant on about this for a while but the bottom line is it sort of hurts my feelings to hear Michelle Williams, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson and James van der Beek parody their time on Dawson’s Creek and/or act like it never happened. DC was a big part of my formative years and it is a show they should be proud of (at least the first three seasons), and not shrink away whenever it is referenced.
Michael Pitt annoyed me about as much as he initially annoyed Michelle Williams’ character Jen Lindley on Dawson’s Creek. He was younger and childish and prone to flying off the handle for no good reason. But just like Jen I started to think well hell, he IS sweet and Henry’s earnestness began to rub off on me. And then it became bizarro world with Jen the cheerleader dating a football player, a place she (and us) probably couldn’t have ever imagined when she first showed up in Capeside. Michael appeared in a slew of prominent movies that I saw before Murder by Numbers: Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Bully as well as a prominent movie I haven’t seen, Finding Forrester. And just like Ryan he worked steadily afterwards, garnering attention for The Dreamers and appearing in The Village and Funny Games among others.
But it was his role on Boardwalk Empire that really turned heads. As each episode progressed, Jimmy Darmody became the most complex, compelling character on the series. Forever haunted by his time spent in France during WWI, we slowly get to unpack his character scene by scene. How and why did he go from Princeton to the war to employment with Nucky? What is the deal with his mother? And sometimes it is nice to just spend some time with Jimmy, whether he is enforcing for the Italians or plotting a coup in Atlantic City. And his friendship with Richard Harrow was truly a boon for us viewers. And to sum up, Boardwalk Empire leaves it indisputable that this guy has some acting chops that I hope to see more as his career continues.
In sum, it is nice to look back on how these two formidable actors converged on one movie set a decade ago and how they have each grown. Murder by Numbers represents a time where I already had my reference points for their respective careers (admittedly they were teen shows); moving past that point, my reference points have changed due to the expanding caliber of their portfolio.
When I saw the trailer for Drive, I saw little to be interested in, I think, for two reasons. Whoever put the trailer together (at least the one I saw multiple times) did not do a very good job. The trailer failed to hint at any of the amazingness contained in this film; instead it catered to the masses (showing sexy shots of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling driving a car, and quick audibles from all the prominent cast members: Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston). Nowhere did it imply that it was more Tarantino than Jerry Bruckheimer, more gritty than showy. Secondly, the failure of promotion combined with the over-saturation of Ryan Gosling in 2011: Crazy, Stupid, Love (meh), The Ides of March (haven’t seen it), All Good Things (the movie that has been lingering in my Netflix Instant Queue), and Drive. And to some extent he has had a year of mileage and exposure starting with awards season last year for Blue Valentine. So in my mind I thought he was phoning this one in to round out a pretty good year.
But what a performance by Ryan Gosling: He simultaneously made my heart break and creeped me out. For the first forty minutes he is genial and calm, calculating. It takes him about 20 seconds to generate an answer in conversation or decide to shake your hand. He smiles and leers uncomfortably long, and then reverts to a normal person for seconds at a time. I love how his character is presented as is, an explanation is not necessary to answer why he is the way he is (quiet and reserved, but adept at being a getaway driver as well as ruthless). The mystery is part of the fun.
I also downloaded the soundtrack minutes after the credits rolled, after becoming obsessed with it in the first few frames of the film. Check out some of these dreamy, 80s-esque tracks that underscore the grittiness of the movie’s performances:
My absolute fave that refuses to get out of my head…
College feat. Electric Youth – A Real Hero
Kavinsky – Nightcall
Desire – Under Your Spell
Or listen to the entire thing: