‘The Nice Guys’ Review
From contributing film critic Andrew Gaudion
What does a filmmaker do when their last film grosses over a billion dollars worldwide? I’m certain that few of us have ever had to contend with this conundrum, but for Shane Black, this was a very real issue he had to deal with in 2013 when Iron Man 3 (only the second film he has directed) dominated the summer box office, becoming the second highest grossing film of the year. An unmistakable and original voice in action cinema since the 80s, Black suddenly had the town at his feet for the first time in his career. How do you tackle Hollywood after such a success? His answer to that conundrum? Make whatever the hell you want. The result is a buddy picture that is Black through and through, unchained and letting loose, and it’s hard not to get down with the funk.Set in 1970s L.A., the film pulses with a pulp noir vibe, as we are thrown head first into a seedy investigation, as enforcer Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe) teams up with P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to find a missing girl who may be involved in a government conspiracy. Cue an escapade that indulges in all things 70s; Fashion, Cadillacs, Music, and the rise of the Porn Industry.
Raymond Chandler can definitely be felt as an influence in the tone and sleuthy narrative of The Nice Guys, but more potently, there is a strong stench of worn-out, dog eared, 25¢ paperbacks permeating throughout the proceedings. Despite odd moments of incredibly goofy humour, Black engages in as many conventions of Noir as he unravels, leading to both moments of expectation-bending hilarity and shockingly bleak twists.
The overall tone, however, is an upbeat one. This is very much down to the interplay between Crowe and Gosling, an incredibly complementary pairing that only a writer like Black could nurture. Crowe in particular hasn’t been this much fun in years (or ever), while Gosling exhibits great hidden strengths in slapstick and buffoonery that have never quite been tapped in the same way (would it be too much to ask to see him in a Coen’s comedy?).While the show very much belongs to Crowe and Gosling, there is ample support from the likes of Matt Bomer and the much-missed Kim Basinger. Newcomer Angourie Rice as Gosling’s daughter is a terrific addition, with Black producing another brilliantly written child role following equally world-weary types in Iron man 3 and The Last Boy Scout (1991).
Shane Black, along with co-writer Anthony Bagarozzie, adds to his impressive oeuvre of cinematic buddy pictures, and almost nonchalantly comes away with another winning duo. From the pairings in Lethal Weapon (1987) to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Black has always had a knack for snappy one-liners, as well as crafting easy-going patter between characters who may not appear to be the most obvious pairing. The Nice Guys can easily stand in spirit to Black’s previous efforts, with its setting and character dynamics allowing it to escape feeling like a copy of a previous template. It is unlikely that Healey and Marsh will be as revered as, say, Riggs and Murtaugh from the Lethal Weapon franchise, but they have almost certainly earned their place in cult cinema alongside the Downey Jnr./Val Kilmer pairing of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The Nice Guys arrives at a point in the summer where franchise-fatigue has most certainly already set in. Amidst the endless parade of sequels, remakes, reboots, and spin-offs, Black’s third directorial feature is above all refreshing and incredibly welcome. While the plot mechanics often either seem too convoluted or barely present, there is no denying how fresh this caper is. It feels like a movie Hollywood used to indulge in in the 90s; a witty action thriller keen to hold no punches and have a ball at the same time (à la Black-scripted The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) and Last Action Hero (1993)).It is a damn shame that an original Hollywood summer movie like this is a rarity in this current climate, and it’s an even greater shame that this Crowe-Gosling film seems to be struggling to get much attention. The Nice Guys is easily the most fun I’ve had at the cinema so far this year, and I urge you to catch it while you can. Shane Black is making movies again; we have to make the most of that.(4.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Misty Mountains, Bloom, Lipsync Productions, Nice Guys, Silver Pictures, Waypoint Entertainment)