DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi • PRO: Joel Silver • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: Joel Negron • MUS: David Buckley, John Ottman • DES: Richard Bridgland • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Matt Bomer, Russell Crowe
The Nice Guys is a convoluted crime caper set in 1977’s seedy LA underbelly, a dark world nonetheless painted with that colourful Californian palette of soft hues and gentle sunshine. Opening with a strange and portentous car crash, the film draws the viewer into a web of mystery with strands leading to porn, the motor industry, and even the heights of the Department of Justice. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an alcoholic P.I. looking for murdered porn-star Misty Mountains’ lookalike Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), a young girl who has simultaneously paid Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to keep people like Holland March away from her. When these two misfits meet each other, in comic and violent fashion, they quickly realise that neither of them know quite who is running things on this job – a discomfiting notion for two men who pride themselves on their instincts. Holland and Jackson decide to team up as they’re targeted by unnamed attackers, with help from Holland’s wise daughter Holly (fantastic film newcomer Angourie Rice) and a bevy of unsavoury characters. Nobody is as they seem, and things quickly move from bad to worse as Amelia’s powerful mother Judith, (Kim Basinger), shows them where the trail of death and money is really leading.
Writer/Director Shane Black carved out a one-film niche for himself with his 2005 directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, pairing quick-fire dialogue and comic violence with an interesting buddy-crime story, and he returns to this ethos with gusto after a successful dalliance with comic-book legend Iron Man in 2013. Improving on the sometimes-anarchic pace of this, The Nice Guys hits the right notes of comedy, intrigue and – very important in Black’s creative world – casting, harking back to the fun-packed buddy-cop feeling of the Lethal Weapon series (written by Black).
Russell Crowe, overweight and slow-moving, nonetheless embodies the menace of an old dog that still has ample bite left in him – his heavy-lidded eyes watching everyone and everything with wry amusement. Ryan Gosling demonstrates yet again that he is not only a fantastic dramatic actor, but a fine comedic one also – in fact, the majority of the laughs in this movie come from Gosling’s physical humour, as he gamely throws himself from balconies and onto the roof of cars with reckless abandon.
Gosling’s Holland March is a perfectly depressed 1970’s L.A. hangover, who struggles to manage the combined roles of loving father, smart detective and raging alcoholic – all the while coping with a new partner who he regularly lets down. Crowe’s Jackson picks up the slack, more charmed by Holland’s daughter Holly and her ability to corral her wayward father than he is by Holland’s prowess as a detective. When psychotic assassin John Boy (Matt Bomer) travels down from New York to clean up after his less-thorough LA counterparts, Holland and Jackson begin to realise that this might not be a simple missing-persons job, and things quickly descend into outright anarchy.
The crime story itself is convoluted, in a sense, but really it’s all secondary to where that story puts its main characters – and the situation setups are so fast-paced and fun that while strands of narrative might fall by the wayside, it’s still a consistently entertaining over-the-top nostalgia-laced trip back to 1970’s craziness. From massive parties for the porn industry, showcasing LA’s biggest scene as it rose towards its zenith, to palm-treed front yard fist fights, the film never slows its pace as it hurtles recklessly towards an impossible conclusion.
Chances are if you liked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and similar slacker-neo-noir capers like The Big Lebowski (1998) and 2014’s Inherent Vice, you’ll be happy with The Nice Guys. Best enjoyed with tongue firmly in cheek.
15A (See IFCO for details)
The Nice Guys is released 3rd June 2016