Review: The Nice Guys

This film was recommended to me as a quirky, black comedy, buddy action flick because the person I was having the conversation with (my brother) knew that I liked some of Shane Black’s other films. Black is the movie’s writer and pen man of other classics such as The Long Kiss Goodnight, Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3 and the original Predator. I was assured that I would like it much better than his last effort (the rebooted Predator which I hated and am still sore that I paid good money to go see at the flicks). 

Was he right? Well frankly …. Yes.

This is a very nice return to form – well technically it did come out in 2016 so it predates the last Predator by two years but you know what I mean.

It is set in 1977 Los Angeles in the middle of the gas crisis. Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a deadbeat private eye and Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a hired heavy who breaks noses and arms for money. A woman hires Gosling to look for her niece, porn star Misty Mountains, adamant that she saw her alive several days after she wound up dead as the result of a car accident. During the course of the investigation he comes across the name of a girl –  Amelia – who may be connected to the case. The same said Amelia has hired Crowe to scare off several men that are looking for her. Soon enough their – Crowe and Gosling’s – paths cross and they end up working together. 

Who else is involved in this tale?

Well add in Gosling’s 13 year old daughter who tags along on many of the escapades including a party at a porn king’s house (there is no mother around – Gosling’s wife has died so he is a single father), her friends including Janet who almost kills them with a misguided bowling ball, a dedicated cold blooded hit man, a bloated decadent car industry, a blue faced heavy (he was warned) and a corrupt head of the Justice Department and you have the makings of quite a wild ride. 

Being Shane Black the movie is quite violent although nothing that made me want to turn off or grimace with distaste as some other pictures have in the past. The violence (most of it anyway) has vague comic overtones (which does raise the question should violence ever be funny or used for comic relief) but it certainly felt like it had none of the outright sadistic nature that the John Wick movies do for instance. That I can handle. And it wasn’t wall to wall so to speak. It didn’t overwhelm the film.  

To balance the violence we get some highly comic, almost absurd moments. March and Healy questioning a group of protestors while attempting to locate Amelia is laugh out loud hilarious. It just is. Trying to work out if their target is among the gas mask wearing lot who claim they cannot answer questions because they are dead is brilliant stuff.

Plot wise it’s not spectacularly original or ground breaking. It’s ok, solid once you understand it. Maybe I was a little slow on the uptake but I felt I was in danger of getting a little lost or at least confused by the story. At one point I thought Misty and Amelia were going to be the same person – did anyone else think that or was it just me? And the sequence where Healy and March were called on to deliver a suitcase full of money – I’m still at a loss as to why. Ok … to get them out of March’s house ultimately but I didn’t understand how it was explained or justified to Healy and March. 

The stars of this show were Gosling and Crowe or, should I say, the interplay between them as they said Black’s lines were, for me, where the movie shone and sparkled. Those were the moments when I was glued to the screen and most entertained. Black writes some of the snappiest dialogue of any screenwriter in Hollywood and he gives the two leads some fabulous scenes to play out. And boy do they do well. Gosling and Crowe work brilliantly with one another. They have super chemistry and I would love to see them work together again at some stage if a decent script could be found. Have either Gosling or Crowe been in a Guy Ritchie gangster/crime movie? 

I felt Gosling especially came across superbly. March was a bit pathetic, sort of smart but sometimes very stupid, goofy, loving and likable. You really have to see it to appreciate what I think is a great performance. Some of my favourite moments from Gosling … trying to hide his manhood from Crowe while holding a gun, a magazine and a toilet door open in a bowling alley while having a birthday party for his daughter, looking for a gun strapped to Crowe’s ankle only to realize he dreamt it along with a man sized bee, getting a bit drunk at an outrageous party (think height of 1970’s over the top decadence) and muddling his words. Gosling looks like he is thoroughly enjoying himself in the role and we, the viewers, are the beneficiaries for sure.

Crowe is also good but in a much more subdued way. Well as subdued as a man who carries knuckle dusters and throttles people can be. Amazingly, despite his profession, Healy is actually quite warm, almost sweet, which I think is a testament to Crowe and all that he gives the character. It feels like he is playing the straight man, less showy and outwardly on display but we get hints of much deeper things. He does not drink (why we are never told) and he appears to have a longing to ‘be useful’. It doesn’t sound like much on the face of it but the way Crowe delivers it on screen gives it some depth and feeling. 

Having the film set in the late 70’s gives a richness that I think would have been lacking had it taken place in the present day. As I have said previously, I like films where the setting is a character unto itself and I think The Nice Guys is a prime example of this. Whether you like over the top, profilagte, sex laden LA is not the point. It gives the whole piece that something extra that makes watching the movie more of an encompassing experience. 

In saying that the movie never lags, in fact it races by. At a little under 2 hours it could have been a trial if the respective elements hadn’t worked but thankfully they did and I never lost interest, got bored or distracted in any way.

I liked this movie and it is one of the few that I can firmly say I would watch again. These days that’s a rarity for me. Shane Black movies are not for everyone and that’s fine. I happen to think he is great when on form and this is one of those instances. The Nice Guys is right up there with his best, if not the top of the tree, although I haven’t yet seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but I will I assure you. 

This is a highly enjoyable watch and a great example of it’s genre.

Rating: 4 stars

Watched: 8 September 2019

(Header Image: Skitterphoto)

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