Synopsis – A mismatched pair of private eyes investigate the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles.
My Take – When I think about a screen writer whose work I enjoy the most, I think about writer/director Shane Black. Black has previously written (or co-written) popular action movies as Lethal Weapon (1 & 2), The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and of course Iron Man 3. After forming team up such Riggs and Murtaugh in 1987’s Lethal Weapon and combining the services of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in the fantastic 2005 cult hit Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (as writer and director), Iron Man 3 director Shane Black has now added the successful team up of one time pin up boy Ryan Gosling and the increasingly gruff Russell Crowe to his resume in the fun, colorful and Coen Brothers inspired caper. While the trailer of the film understandably portrays the film as an action film set in the 70s, its actually more of a dark comedy with inklings of a pulp like detective tale that involves everything from pornographic actresses, blue faced goons, talking bees and Ryan Gosling on a toilet. The film weaves a quite complicated tale of mysteries, murders and questionable investigating work into a film that at its core often fly off the back of Shane Black‘s witty scripting work, the fantastic use of the 70’s landscape and most importantly, the winning combination of the inventive pairing of Crowe and Gosling.
The story follows Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) in Los Angeles, 1977. Porn star Misty Mountains has just died (spectacularly). Dodgy licensed private investigator Holland March has been hired two days later to find Misty by the slightly kooky Mrs Glenn (Lois Smith) who saw her through the windows of Misty’s home. Never one to turn down a pay check to support his teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), Holland takes the case and the trail leads him to search for a missing girl called Amelia (Margaret Qualley). This leads him right into the substantial fists of the ‘heavy for hire’ Jackson Healey, who’s been hired by Amelia not to be found. But it’s clear that Amelia is at the centre of a tornado of intrigue, since her mother Judith (Kim Basinger) is head of the Justice department and there are some dangerous people from New York and Detroit looking for Amelia too. This may sound like a plot that would be full of clichés, predictable story beats, and characters that have been seen over and over again. While it’s true that the film does lean on a few staples of the genre, it’s also consistently surprising, completely fascinating, and even unexpectedly touching in a few places. Being written and directed by Shane Black, comparisons to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon are inevitable. It’s not quite up to the same standard as those scripts – perhaps future instalments (if they do arrive) might shed light on Healey’s backstory and his neurotic need to be “useful”, or delve more into the broken home life of March – but there is undeniable pleasure in seeing Black do his thing: banter, pathos, idiocy, lunacy, and old school shootouts. It’s probably on a par with The Last Boy Scout, which will do nicely. While it sounds like a lot to take in, the film not only has an interesting mystery, it is also a great buddy-buddy comedy aided by a brilliant script, full of enough wit and quips, written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi. It’s not only Crowe and Gosling who benefit from the script either with Matt Bomer shining as the sinister John Boy and Angourie Rice almost stealing the show as Holly March, Holland’s rather persistent daughter. This being a Shane Black film, there’s still plenty of hilarious lines and comedic elements, when the occasional action scene does happen, it feels purposeful rather than just thrown in to be cool or keep the audiences’ attention.
Black‘s direction in these scenes is better than ever, as the shoot-out that concludes the film is the most entertaining action scene I’ve seen in at least five years. Similarly, the period is lovingly reincarnated, in part because it doesn’t simply revel in the coolness of the time – here’s a movie that’s happy to eschew the disco and observe the rubbish brownness of late-70s social decline. For a period piece set in the 1970s and it seemed to be very period accurate. I liked the wardrobe, the vehicles and the set design, everything looked great. Add in some great 1970s music for the soundtrack and you get to travel back in time to the 1970s. I thought the movie nailed that aspect and showed the attention to detail with embracing the funky atmosphere of that time period. The only thing negative thing to say, is that there’s some underutilized depth. But then again, not really. Both main characters are deep and complicated and interesting in their own ways. There’s more than meets the eye and not a lot is laid out for us that easily. Plus I’m still unclear exactly what the relationship between Misty and Amelia was exactly. The biggest surprise for me was how great Crowe and Gosling were together. Gosling and Crowe are absolutely perfect in their roles. Clearly relishing the opportunity to play each other’s foils, Gosling and Crowe are the best they’ve been in years here. This is the best Russell Crowe performance we have seen in years and he has no trouble at all selling the tough guy persona of Healy. The comedy was something I thought Crowe could struggle with however, having seen him do a few interviews recently and after his performance here, I had no need to worry. Crowe is funny in this but Gosling is absolutely hilarious. He proved his comic chops in The Big Short and Crazy, Stupid, Love but here there is so much more to the comedy he performs here. A lot of it is verbal but there are some moments of physical comedy that Gosling nails, particularly one sequence in the movie’s finale that was rather quite brilliant. Gosling steals most of the films best singular moments. Speaking of stealing, young Australian actress Angourie Rice makes a huge impact here with a fantastically judged turn as the wise beyond her years daughter of Gosling‘s often bumbling Holland March, Holly, and considering it’s no mean feat to outplay two Hollywood heavyweights, Rice could well be “the next big thing”. In supporting roles, Margaret Qualley, Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Keith David and Yaya DaCosta are all good. On the whole, ‘The Nice Guys’ is an excellent, fun, sharp and engaging mixture of comedy and mystery driven by the fine pairing of Gosling and Crowe. I loved almost every second of it, and would gladly sit through a longer cut in a heartbeat. The Nice Guys is an instant classic, one that I will definitely be watching over and over again. Highly recommended!
Directed – Shane Black
Rated – R
Run Time – 116 minutes