The Nice Guys (2016) by Shane Black
Review by Zach Dennis
Coursing from the screen like a deliciously wicked piece of dessert, coupled with a fine wine, The Nice Guys is the perfect anecdote to an increasingly self-serious fold of blockbuster filmmaking — remembering its role in the cultural consciousness, but also recognizing the heart and humanity it takes to create characters, and create them right.
It isn’t shocking that something so effortless and free could come from writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3), but it seems like such an anomaly in a field that is more concerned with grounded reality and seriousness than enjoying your time at the movies. The Nice Guys leans on this second skill — anchored masterfully by the performances of lead actors Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe — and introduces you to a world both bizarre and believable.
Transporting you to 1977 Los Angeles, the story follows a private investigator, Holland March (Gosling), and a hired muscle, Jackson Healy (Crowe), who are thrust into an intricate plot of deception, betrayal, and death that is beset by the disappearance of Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) and the pursuit of a lost pornographic film that is said to contain incriminating information for both the Department of Justice and its leader, Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger).
Black comes from a long lineage of buddy cop movies after previously working on Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and this expertise comes into play when establishing these two characters while also relying on pre-determined beats to fortify their qualities.
Gosling, in what may be his most stripped down silly role since Lars and the Real Girl, rides the ripples of insanity and genius rather well — playing a private investigator that knows what he is doing, but is resilient to really give an effort. On the other side is Crowe, who plays a man determined to find some sort of respectability in his life — which is dominated by bashing in the heads of lowlifes and assholes for a bit of cash.
The plot does not transcend the genre — rather playing within its folds — which allows Black and the actors to play between the lines. The pleasure of the movie comes from the almost effortless chemistry from its two stars, who are able to trade both blows and sentimentality with such a richness and genuine nature that it is easy to fall into its alluring haze.
Black is known for crafting scripts with quick, piercing lines that cut with a sense of command and wit, and The Nice Guys is no different. Each character seems scripted to talk at a semi-unrealistic talking speed, but like a film by Howard Hawks, it is demanded in order to give the lines their poignancy and humor. It also helps that the actors seem willing to strip their pre-conceived personalities and commit to the insanity and insecurity of the roles they’re playing.
Gosling, known for wooing your little sister with a quick “Hey Girl,” transforms into a dopey and juvenile basket case whose daughter may exude more quick wit and dignity than him over the course of the movie. Counter that with Crowe, who is known for roles in Gladiator and LA Confidential (also with Basinger), and seems at home in a role that feels like a winner past his prime and coming to terms with his exit.
While the story never ascends to the realm of greatness, The Nice Guys succeeds at being something different in a forum filled with self-serious superheroes, annoyingly elongated nostalgia, and half-baked sequel concepts. It feels like something perfect for the summer movie season when escapism is the desired form of movie-watching and endearing, but kooky characters are recommended. What works best about The Nice Guys is that it keeps you laughing and makes your attention essential.
That shouldn’t be a new idea in 2016 with movies, but after witnessing two overstuffed superhero movies in the last few weeks, it felt freeing to just sit back and bask in the entertainment of these characters and this outlandish plot. It may not be my favorite movie of the year so far, but it will most definitely be in my top five most re-watched of the year due to its endless quotability and jubilant spirit.
The Nice Guys is a movie we need more of — pure, unadulterated fun that plays within its lines with expertise and precision. I feel like this is an argument I make every year with some movie (it was probably said in Mad Max: Fury Road last year and Edge of Tomorrow the year before), but that is indicative of the climate rather than my lack of creativity (even though it certainly didn’t help).
This is a movie that relishes being a movie rather than an event. It is a movie smart enough to know its limits, but ambitious enough to know when to push a little harder.
Joe Namath once said that when you have confidence, you have fun and when you have fun, you can do amazing things. The Nice Guys and its cast and crew are having fun, and because of that we come away with an amazing product.