The Nice Guys Review
The Nice Guys might be the most fun I’ve had at the movies in quite a while, and, given that I recently saw Captain America: Civil War, that is a rather strong statement. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the better film, since it succeeds on different levels, but I think it is probably my favorite buddy cop style films that I have seen in a particularly long time. It is an odd contradiction of a film where having writer/director Shane Black play to all of his traditional strengths has resulted in one of the most original and freshest films to come out this year. And despite similarities to his previous works, as well as the fact that it is quite clearly a Shane Black film to its very core, it succeeds in feeling completely unique when compared to the entries of his filmography that I had seen prior. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe work so incredibly well off of one another that, once the film is over, one might find themselves bemoaning the fact that they can’t yet see them working together on another case. That isn’t to say it is a perfect film though. Much like with the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the narrative itself ends up largely taking a back seat to the interactions between the characters, but the reasoning behind why that is the case has less to do with the weaknesses of the narrative and more to do with the strengths of the cast.
The film stars Ryan Gosling as Holland March, an alcoholic widower who works as a private investigator who often employs a near complete dearth of personal ethics in order to make quick bucks off of simple cases. He gets hired by the aunt of a recently deceased porn star who believes that she saw her niece alive. However, his investigation into a related party causes him to run across Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy, an enforcer who seems disappointed by his role as a brute-for-hire. Of the two main characters, I can’t help but feel that Gosling is more of a surprise. Having only really seen him in Lars and the Real Girl and Drive (I don’t really remember him from Remember the Titans), I was mainly familiar with him playing the role of a quiet and reserved individual, though admittedly the characters of Lars and the Driver were at completely different ends of the badass scale. Here however, he plays a hard drinking swindler who is near useless in most of the fights. I don’t mean to downplay the brilliance of Crowe’s Jack Healy, though. As the more contemplative and collected of the two, the character feels a little bit like a twist on Crowe’s character from American Gangster, but it would be a mistake to assume that he is simply the straight man to Gosling. That is admittedly a role that he plays, but his dry and sardonic observations provide the film with a lot of humor as well. Finally, there is March’s thirteen-year-old daughter Holly, played superbly by Angourie Rice, who aids the two as they pool their efforts together, sometimes to the dismay of both her father and Healy. The relationship between Holland and Holly might be one of the most brilliant elements of the script as it serves to effectively showcase Holland’s lack of scruples (he tends to use Holly as a chauffeur whenever he is too inebriated to drive) while also grounding his character and ensuring that he is never too unlikable.
As alluded to earlier, the narrative sometimes seems to fade into the background a bit, and if I have one notable complaint about the film it would be that I sometimes lost track of exactly how the threads were connecting. This was an issue that I had with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as well, to the point that I can barely remember what the plot of that film was, and I only saw it a few years ago. Fortunately, this is far less of a significant liability for the narrative of The Nice Guys, and I can remember all of the major beats that the plot hit upon and how they ultimately tied together. It was only when I was in the midst of the film itself that I occasionally found myself questioning what exactly was going on, and this was largely due to the fact that, for a period, I failed to properly grasp the connection between the deceased porn star and a missing girl named Amelia. So, all in all, the plot may suffer the minor indignity of getting lost amongst the hilarity of the character interactions. It isn’t a huge problem but it did affect the viewing experience a bit. The presentation of the film is also notable as it presents its late 70’s Los Angeles setting as being both vibrant and seedy in a way that few films made outside of that era have quite captured. It perfectly reflects the bizarre dichotomy of the characters that inhabit it, and it ultimately feels less like a backdrop and more like a character unto itself.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- Keith David and Beau Knapp play a pair of thugs who somehow succeed in threading the needle by being both entertainingly inept and legitimately threatening. Plus, they destroy Healy’s box of Yoohoo.
- Matt Bomer of Chuck and White Collar plays a hitman referred to by the moniker John Boy who might just be one of my favorite cinematic guns-for-hire period. He’s practically up there with Anton Chigurh from No Country and Vincent from Collateral.
- Val Kilmer’s son Jack Kilmer actually appears in the film as a moderately inept projectionist named Chet. He’s actually a pretty fun character, though it wasn’t until after my viewing of the film that I noticed the resemblance.
The Nice Guys is a film that plays to all of the strengths of writer/director Shane Black, and what we end up with is a film that feels wholly original and stands out as one of the strongest films of the year so far. This is a film that deserves your money.