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Barbenheimer: How Cillian Murphy and Ryan Gosling are finally garnering mainstream recognition

Two incredible actors with outstanding bodies of work, but have often shied away from the spotlight

Barbenheimer: How Cillian Murphy and Ryan Gosling are finally garnering mainstream recognition

Last Updated: 11.03 AM, Aug 04, 2023


After a few years in the abyss, ‘cinema’ in its truest form has finally made its glorious comeback. It’s not the commercial ‘mass entertainers’ such as Avengers: Endgame or RRR that are grabbing the headlines but a satirical film and a profound biopic have taken the world by storm. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is on course to become one of the most successful films ever, while Christopher Nolan’s R-rated drama is set to break the record for becoming the highest-grossing biopic of all time. The interesting takeaway here is the fact that original films have essentially destabilised Disney’s monopoly of the market, which the studio held with an iron grip with its barrage of templatised Marvel and Star Wars films over the past decade.


The ‘Barbenheimer’ frenzy has paved the way for potentially a new era in Hollywood – one that is unprecedented and helping lure audiences back to theatres in the post-pandemic era. While both films certainly deserve the plaudits that have been coming their way, it is the much-deserved mainstream recognition of both Ryan Gosling and Cillian Murphy that requires to be celebrated. Gosling’s turn as Ken in Barbie is undoubtedly the standout performance in the film – which is a monumental achievement in itself considering the wealth of talent in Barbie’s extensive ensemble. Whereas for Murphy, it would be a crime if he is not nominated for an Academy Award for his nuanced portrayal of J Robert Oppenheimer. Neither Gosling nor Murphy are strangers to big-budget productions. But it’s their performances in the indie circuit that truly showcased their acting prowess in the past.

For the casual audience, Gosling is “that guy from The Notebook.” But Gosling’s body of work is astronomically superior just to be referred to as the ‘guy from The Notebook.’ Gosling can seamlessly play a range of characters in multiple genres. His turn as the lead in the romantic drama The Notebook, alongside Rachel McAdams, is the most obvious example to pivot to as a reference for his ability as a charming romantic lead. If one were to have watched Derek Cianfrance’s underrated indie drama The Place Beyond the Pines, one would immediately take note of Gosling's proficiency to play a complex anti-hero. But it’s Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, which was released two years prior to The Place Beyond the Pines, that truly captures the depth of Gosling’s incredible range as an actor. Both Gosling and co-star Michelle Williams deliver compelling performances in the gripping drama Blue Valentine, garnering significant praise for portraying a married couple’s complex relationship. However, it’s Gosling's starring role in the 2011 action drama Drive that firmly confirmed the actor’s ability to slip into any role or genre. Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is arguably one of the most underrated films of the 21st century. And Gosling's performance in the film is absolutely captivating. He has since played lead roles in several acclaimed films, including the black comedy The Nice Guys, the Neil Armstrong biopic, First Man, as well as Big Short, Blade Runner 2049, and La La Land. He even played the lead in a relatively more commercial film catered for a wider demographic in 2022 – the Netflix original The Gray Man. But Gosling continued to stay under the radar, unlike Ryan Reynolds for instance, who essentially plays a version of himself in a vast majority of his blockbusters.

Cillian Murphy’s career on the other hand is both similar and distinctive at the same time to Gosling's, in terms of popularity. Those who follow British television or even binge TV shows on Netflix will be more than familiar with Murphy’s role as Tommy Shelby in the hit crime drama series, Peaky Blinders. But for the casual cinema audience, the Irishman is the supporting character who invariably pops up in Christopher Nolan’s films. And most people don’t often associate Murphy with some of the acting powerhouses in global cinema. This is disappointing considering Murphy is one of the finest actors of his generation – on par with the best in history. It has almost become a cliche to refer to an actor’s performance as ‘effortless’. While it can be true in some cases, it would also be a disservice to them considering the effort they put into bringing a character to life on the silver screen. Murphy epitomises this aspect by completely immersing himself in each character he plays. For instance, he modulates his voice and clears his throat on occasion while playing Tommy Shelby, because Murphy’s on-screen character in Peaky Blinders is a chain smoker, whereas Murphy himself is not. The minor adjustments he makes to his characters and the effort and sacrifice he undertakes into giving a unique flair to his performances are almost unmatched. These sentiments were echoed by Robert Downey Jr. during the Oppenheimer media tour, waxing lyrical about his colleague.

The media-shy Murphy leads a relatively quiet life in Ireland with his family, and he is so far detached from the digital age that an interviewer once had to explain to him what a meme is. Murphy’s major breakthrough in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and other acclaimed projects such as Breakfast Pluto, in which he plays a transgender woman, Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and the multiple collaborations with Nolan, never made him a household name like his Oppenheimer co-star Robert Downey Jr.

Both Murphy and Gosling are on the cusp of greatness. They have finally become part of an unparalleled pop culture movement, regardless of whether they are unwitting participants. It would come as a great shock if neither garnered Academy Award nominations next year. Both Margot Robbiie and Emily Blunt also deserve significant praise for delivering stunning performances in their respective films. Additionally, one must not also disregard Robert Downey Jr’s outstanding performance in Oppenheimer for an Oscar, nor underestimate what can be expected from Martin Scorcese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two. While the ongoing dual writers and actors strike in Hollywood does put a blemish on the American film industry and how major studios function, there can be no doubts that 2023 is the year ‘cinema’, as described by Scorcese, has truly made its glorious comeback – with two excellent actors receiving the long-overdue global mainstream recognition they deserve.