Ryan Gosling, currently starring opposite his real-life love Eva Mendes in the darkly wrought drama of "The Place Beyond the Pines," is always chemically combustible on screen. That romantic power crystallized early on in 2004's "The Notebook." His rain-soaked embrace of co-star Rachel McAdams, also an off-screen love for a time, made him into an overnight heartthrob.
But Gosling was never a one-night stand. Over time the roles, and the performances, have only gotten better — opposite Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine," showing killer charm with Carey Mulligan in "Drive," the player gone soft on Emma Stone in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" with that impossible "Dirty Dancing" lift. And with Stone again in "Gangster Squad," their sultry first encounter in a smoky nightclub is one of a bad film's best moments. He even made a serious relationship with an inflatable doll charmingly believable in "Lars and the Real Girl."
It's the eyes. Gosling's way of looking at his leading ladies — as if they are the only reason he's alive — is intoxicating, even before the first touch. There is a kind of tenderness during those close encounters and that only intensifies his appeal.
In "Pines," Gosling brings a special kind of restraint. It's as if Luke, his stunt-riding motorcyclist, understands how fragile the young mother of his son, played by Mendes, truly is — and how tenuous their evolving relationship is too. The couple's struggle between emotional rush and harsh reality makes it an affair to remember.