The Nice Guys (2016) – Movie Review
The Nice Guys
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Augourie Rice, Kim Basinger & Margaret Qualley
Music: John Ottman & David Buckley
Release Date: June 3rd 2016
Shane Black is a writer who made his name and reputation in the 1980s and the 1990s with the buddy-cop genre. Get two reliable, mis-matched, talented actors together, give them great dialogue to work with and a crime-mystery to solve and you had yourself a hit movie. Black’s first screenplay was for ‘Lethal Weapon‘ and this formula made him into one of Hollywood’s highest-paid writers in the early 90s. However, this success led to him mainly getting work as a script-doctor for films that were doomed to fail such as ‘Last Action Hero‘ as well as working on scripts that were heavily altered by the studio but still carrying his name like ‘The Last Boy Scout‘ and ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight‘.
But in recent years, Black has stepped into the directors chair and given himself much more control over the material that he writes which came together in 2005 with ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘, a buddy-cop movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer that is considered a cult-classic film. After making a billion-dollar blockbuster with ‘Iron Man 3‘, Black is back to the genre he helped to popularise with ‘The Nice Guys‘ which pairs Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling to solve a mystery in the late-70s. Can Black keep the material fresh or should this genre be thrown to the wayside?
It’s the late 70s and in Los Angeles movies, sex, drugs and alcohol are running wild with everyone having a good time. But NOT having a good time is private investigator Holland March (Gosling) who scams people out of their money and takes on cases he can’t possibly solve, like the case of a porn star who has disappeared. His only lead is a missing girl named Amelia Kutner (Qualley) but to throw Holland off the scent she hires freelance enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) to beat him up and intimidate him. But Healy discovers that there may be more to this disappearance than he initially suspected so he teams up with Holland to track down Amelia, find the porn star and uncover a massive conspiracy.
The weakest part of ‘The Nice Guys‘ is the plot itself. It’s deliberately complex, intentionally preposterous and foolish, ludicrous and other adjectives. And some of the reveals, twists and turns and directions do become funny just for their audacity, especially in the 1970s setting with the inclusion of hippy-style protesters, new technologies and other aspects that resonate from that era. However, as the twists and turns start to pile-up it becomes hard to follow and whether or not that’s deliberate it does cast a big shadow over the film, particularly the 3rd act when all the motives are revealed but the film still has an action set-piece to get through. The best segments of ‘The Nice Guys‘ occurs in the first 60-70 minutes when the stakes aren’t fully revealed and the characters are more interested with interacting with each other then they are trying to reach the end-game.
And that’s where ‘The Nice Guys‘ absolutely excels because when Russell Crowe, a very self-serious actor interacts with the over-the-top Ryan Gosling playing completely against-type, it’s comedic gold. All the moments you’ve seen from the trailers such as Jack Healy breaking Holland March’s arm, Holland trying to intimidate Jack while he’s on the toilet and others are just a taste of what ‘The Nice Guys‘ has to offer in terms of comedic gold. When the plot goes into overdrive near the end, these comedic moments become rarer but nothing can take away from the sheer brilliance that is mined from this pairing for the first hour of the film.
This is really where the heart and soul of ‘The Nice Guys‘ lies and what has made it such a darling amongst audiences (or at least the ones who bothered to watch it). The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is genuine and it’s coming from a very unexpected place. Russell Crowe is an incredibly talented dramatic actor, but you could count his comedic films/roles on one hand. And with Ryan Gosling who, while starring in black comedies like ‘Lars and the Real Girl‘ as well as being one of the best things about ‘Crazy, Stupid Love‘ has mostly made a name for himself playing stoic, understated and quiet characters in ‘Drive‘, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines‘, ‘Only God Forgives‘ etc., this feels like a real departure for both actors. But they fit into these roles, even though ‘The Nice Guys‘ was not written specifically with these actors in mind with Shane Black writing the script as a TV pilot back in 2001. This is a case of the stars in the universe aligning with the right script, the right actors at the right time and this cosmic-coincidence is the main reason ‘The Nice Guys‘ works as well as it does despite a plot that feels like it’s working against its strengths.
But it’d be remiss of me to not mention the supporting cast, including Angourie Rice who plays Holland’s daughter and while child-actors in a film like this are usually intolerable burdens, her character is actually a lot of fun and Rice seems like a born movie-star, able to go head-to-head with veterans like Crowe and Gosling. Beau Knapp and Keith David are fun as a henchmen duo, Kim Basinger is good in what feels like her first substantial role in forever and Margaret Qualley gives an effective down-to-earth performance to ground the insanity that happens around her in the movie.
But the stars of ‘The Nice Guys‘ is unquestionable Shane Black, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling and it’s just as trashy, violent, entertaining and fun as that combination sounds. There’s not much to say of substance here because the film’s strengths are worn on its sleeve. Anything approaching substance feels undercut by the insane, constantly-in-motion plot of the film and while I’m sure that’s intentional, possibly poking fun at elaborate, politically motivated plots of syndicated crime shows or exploitation films of the 70s and 80s, it feels like you could have just as much fun by shortening the run-time and making the story simpler so that this talented cast can explore the setting more freely and not feel so constrained to a formula dictated by this mystery-plot. Ironically, ‘The Nice Guys‘ could have been a better film if it didn’t try so hard.
But the 1970s setting does a lot to give the film a uniqueness with the elaborate architecture being showcased as Jackson and Holland explore the Los Angeles criminal underworld as well as awesome party settings. Even a place like Jackson’s apartment, which might have been conventional for the 1970s feels like such a different setting from what we normally see on screen nowadays. The bright yellows, oranges, blues and other colours give ‘The Nice Guys‘ such a distinct palette and everything from the cars, clothing and props feels accurate for the time. Even the colours of the costumes from Jackson’s blue jacket and Holland’s orange shirts feels like a deliberate choice as those two colours contrast with each other, just like the characters.
The score from John Ottman and David Buckley feels ripped straight out of a exploitation movie, infused with jazz and guitar-riffs from the carefree setting, the violence is entertaining to watch (though it feels like it could go a bit further with the gore) and even the neon logo with the hot-pink colouring is a great touch. The soundtrack is awesome and era-appropriate and the film is so committed to the 1970s retro-feel that Warner Bros. even cut a trailer in that style, complete with distorted VHS effects (watch in 144p for the best quality).
In terms of being a throwback to buddy-cop films with a unique setting filled with entertaining characters played by actors at their peak physical-comedy-performance as well as nailing their deliveries from an endlessly witty script, ‘The Nice Guys‘ is a great success. It’s quotable, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make a superb pairing and all the unique hallmarks of a Shane Black movie are on display (it even takes place around Christmas, because of course it does). If there’s a drawback it’s that the plot is too knowingly complex for its own good meaning that the film feels long-winded and interrupts the main selling point of the film; this unconventional yet perfect pairing. The ending teases further investigations for the two leads and while I’d be first in line to see them, I hope they tackle a case that’s far simpler and interesting next time.
I give ‘The Nice Guys‘ 4 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 11th Dec 16