“You’re the world’s worst detectives.”
The Nice Guys is Shane Black’s latest irreverent buddy movie, starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as two very different crime solvers drawn into the same mystery. Like nearly all of the previous films Black’s written and/or directed (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and even Iron Man 3) The Nice Guys follows two disparate characters as they bumble their way through a violent mystery, getting mixed up with numerous colourful characters along the way. But is it as good as any of these?
The film follows Ryan Gosling’s Holland Marsh, an ethically questionable P.I and Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy, a brutish thug for hire with a heart of gold (not far removed from Bud White, the other neo-noir character Crowe played, in the seminal L.A. Confidential). Like Black’s other work the film starts with the two protagonist’s having to join up but barely getting along, in this case because Healy breaks Marsh’s arm. But even in the beginning it’s easy to see that the bromance between these two is real, and it helps that these two can deliver Black’s snarky lines with such ease. Both deliver some of the best performances of their careers and it’s especially hilarious to see these typically dramatic actors doing almost full on comedy. Gosling especially stands out as comic force to be recognised, especially when he is doing slapstick comedy. I’m a sucker for slapstick and no one can fall down a hill quite as hilariously as Ryan Gosling. A surprise in the film is Marsh’s daughter Holly, played by relative newcomer Angourie Rice, who more than holds her own against the adults, and even has some of the funniest moments of the film. And Black’s script shines; not since Kiss Kiss bang Bang have seen a film with such a high rate of jokes hitting their mark, all delivered expertly by Crowe and Gosling. And I’ll still be picking up on new ones on a second and even third re-watch. The mystery is good too, encapsulating sex, death, Government conspiracies, and evil corporations, fitting of any classic noir film.
Those of you expecting another hit of metatextuality in the style of Black’s post-modern masterpiece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang might be disappointed that it’s lacking from The Nice Guys. But this film really doesn’t need that and instead of commenting on and signposting cliches, like Robert Downey Jr’s narrator did in KKBB, The Nice Guys instead lovingly embraces them. It feels like an old school comedy thriller more in line with the Black films of the 80’s and 90’s than it does with KKBB. And also don’t be put off by the similarities to another recent 70’s detective flick; Inherent Vice, or by the people calling this film ‘Inherent Vice-Lite. The Nice Guys isn’t Inherent Vice, it’s actually much better. I think it’ll be what a lot of people wanted that film to be – a funny R-rated mystery about sex and violence all through the lens of a hilariously intoxicated protagonist. And, somewhat surprisingly, Ryan Gosling is much better at that than Joaquin Pheonix.
Black’s direction is on top form here as well. His original work on 80’s action thrillers seems to paying off too because the action in the film is awesome, and refreshingly old school. At times the film actually feels closer to earlier Black films like Lethal Weapon and the Last Boyscout, rather than his more recent fare like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which may disappoint some but it’s definitely not a bad thing in my eyes. The soundtrack is brilliant too featuring songs by The Bee Gees, The Climax Blues Band, and at least two songs by Earth Wind and Fire. The film goes all the way with the 70’s aesthetic in everything from music, to costumes, even little period details to the 70’s (like a sign for the a Tim Allen gig at a comedy club, or billboard for Jaws 2). This is especially impressive considering it was made on the (relatively) small budget of about $50 million, a quarter of the budget of Black’s previous film; Iron Man 3.
The bottom line: The Nice Guys is one of the best films of the year so far, and definitely the funniest. Shane Black fans will of course love it but I also hope it reaches a wider audience, because it deserves to be successful. Crowe and Gosling are outstanding, as is newcomer Angourie Rice. It’s hilarious, violent, and incredibly fun. It’s not a reinvention or subversion of the buddy movie; we’re not entering a period of revisionist buddy movies. It’s more a glorious revival, a throwback to a better time in cinema where an R-rated buddy movie would be the highlight of the summer season. And despite how scummy LA is and all of the murder and porn, the film is oddly, and ironically, nice. From the father daughter relationship, to the begrudging friendship of the two leads, the film is surprisingly sweet and you’ll leave the cinema with a big smile on your face. And really, what more do you want.