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Wednesday, May 2, 2007 10:01 pm

Rising star

Gosling’s best performance came in a little-seen film

Untitled Document Every new generation has its rising star, and the newest is Ryan Gosling. Fresh from his first Oscar nomination, he can be seen in the murder thriller Fracture. Gosling plays a hotshot prosecutor who never loses a case, but he is frustrated trying to prove the guilt of Anthony Hopkins, who has confessed to shooting his wife. The problem is that the gun found on Hopkins was never fired. Fracture succeeds on the welcome simplicity of its mystery and on the wonderful sparring of the two stars. Hopkins does a humorous variation of Hannibal Lecter, but it is Gosling’s obsessive attorney who carries the film. Gosling’s first starring role, in The Believer (2001), proved that he was already beyond his contemporaries. He is nothing short of mesmerizing as a deeply disturbed Jewish youth who denies his heritage to become a Nazi skinhead. While I was watching this film I was struck by the fact that I had never seen a better performance by an actor who was unknown to me. Stardom was inevitable, and it came with the tearjerker The Notebook (2004). The leap from dark and monstrous to charming and likable is astonishing. James Garner tries to help an Alzheimer’s patient (Gena Rowlands) by reading a love story to her. Gosling appears in this story as a poor farm boy who romances a girl of wealth (Rachel McAdams). Of course her parents don’t approve. Do they ever? The Notebook is a rare serious love story that isn’t insulting, and it saved Gosling from being typecast as dark characters. Before this breakthrough role he appeared in Murder by Numbers (2002), a Leopold-and-Loeb-inspired thriller about two youths who plot the perfect murder. The filmmakers should have tried harder to plot the perfect murder thriller. Gosling’s arrogant charm steals the film from its star, Sandra Bullock. Gosling’s best film to date is Stay (2005), in which he plays a suicidal patient under the care of a psychiatrist, played by Ewan McGregor. Surrealism has never been big box office, and this puzzling gem fell through the cracks. The story begins normally enough, but reality slowly breaks down. Stick with it, and pay close attention. Gosling managed the rare feat of being nominated for an Oscar for a little-seen film. In Half Nelson he plays a drug-addicted teacher in an urban high school. Pausing every now and then for a political message, Half Nelson seems to have fooled critics into thinking that it has deep meaning. The storyline is mediocre, but Gosling is extraordinary, as usual. Saving a bad movie is a sure sign of stardom.
New on DVD this Tuesday (May 8): Music and Lyrics, Because I Said So, The Painted Veil, Catch and Release, Miss Potter, and Breaking and Entering.
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