I was pretty upset with Dan Stevens for leaving “Downton Abbey” in 2012. He was never a standout (reflected in the Emmys nominating eight of his co-stars), but his character was so integral that it was impossible for him to depart organically.
His final episode was aggravating (see Daily Mail review), and the season that followed was not as strong as the ones before it. Leaving the show that had given him international recognition in the middle of its run just seemed selfish.
I watched “The Guest” recently. He made the right choice.
Thirty pounds leaner, perfectly tanned instead of pasty and now sporting movie-star stubble, Stevens is unrecognizable in his role as David Collins, a soldier and the eponymous guest. He even sounds different with a flawless American accent.
The film does not just take advantage of Stevens’ new muscular physique—it constructs an entire film around it. The first half is little more than an exploration of what a man can get away with by being sexy and cool; the second half takes the film from simmer to boil with gunfire and explosions as David becomes unhinged.
This progression makes the film a spiritual successor to 2011’s “Drive.” In that art-house thriller, Ryan Gosling played a nameless, silent type who did little more than exude charisma in the first half of the film and then stomped on heads in the second.
The conspiracy at the center of the plot of “The Guest” is explained away with a throwaway line about a “medical experiment.” Director Adam Wingard (nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards for Best Editing of “The Guest”) knows that focusing on a career-redefining star turn makes for greater entertainment. He would not want to lessen Stevens’ shirtless screen time after all.
It was no surprise that the Oscars overlooked Stevens. It makes him no less compelling, but he does not display much range in “The Guest.” This is the type of “slap the stud” role that the Oscars seldom nominate and ought to more often. Consider “Titanic,” in which Kate Winslet was the more emotionally vulnerable lead and reaped a nomination, but it was the collected Leonardo DiCaprio who left the greater impression.
That is one of the great things about our own Gold Derby Film Awards. We can right the Academy’s wrong. Consider this a big FYC for Dan Stevens, and please include him among your three Best Actor votes below. Nominations will be announced on Monday, February 2.