The Stunt Man (1980)

Richard Rush directs Peter O’Toole, Steve Railsback and Barbara Hershey in this action comedy drama about a director who traps a fugitive into being his new stuntman in a risky production.

Every scene and sequence is a con. Tricking us the audience, or the characters themselves so often and relentlessly, until no one, real or fictional can tell what is artifice and what is reality. As a celebration of the flim flam of movie making this is a complex post-modern piece, worth unpacking on repeat visits I’d wager. Yet it is no cold, dry exercise. We get those incident packed stunt sequences, the sneering wit of O’Toole’s manipulative tyrant of a director and the alluring beguilement of Hershey’s leading lady. Her romance with Railsback really pops. The film works best though as a love letter and showcase to stunt performers. Even when we know what we are watching is rehearsed and planned, the risks and injuries feel real. Similar to the point made in Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, this story shines a light on the pain, damage and stress a physical performer puts themselves through “faking” danger and conflict. A strange movie, difficult to get a satisfying handle on, but one that is unique for all its tonal shifts.


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