Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer
Release date: May 27th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 116 minutes
Best part: Crowe & Gosling’s chemistry.
Worst part: The shaky third act.
Writer/director Shane Black is one of modern Hollywood’s few remaining pioneers from generations past. From his 1980s and 90s jaunts (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) to today, the visionary wordsmith has set the bar in terms of plot, character, tension, and dialogue. After ostensibly being thrown under bus after The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Action Hero‘s commercial failings, his spectacular work on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 brought him back. Tinseltown loves a true underdog story.
His latest venture, The Nice Guys, takes us back to a time of bright colours, questionable antics, and political strife (judging by those qualities, nothing much has changed). Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the movie chronicles underground lowlife Jackson Healy(Russell Crowe)’s tiresome existence. Busting heads for a living, Healy’s post-divorce, cheap lifestyle takes a severe toll. Meanwhile, sketchy private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has crawled into a bottle after his wife’s death. Prone to drinking and scamming helpless elderly clients, March is a bad guy pretending to do good. His 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) is beginning to despise her old man. After an unfortunate run-in, Healy and March must team up to solve the head-scratching mystery of missing girl Amelia (Margaret Qualley).
The Nice Guys combines buddy-comedy’s good-natured thrills, neo-noir’s lingering hopelessness, and Black’s shocking sense of humour into a riveting adventure. Admittedly, it’s nitty-gritty plot-threads involving murder, the pornography scene, and Detroit car industry muddy the waters in its second and third acts. Overshadowing the slower moments, the first act sets up the intensifying atmosphere and Black’s idiosyncratic style. The writer/director lives and dies by sharp tonal shifts, with every frame unapologetically pushing violence and sex appeal. Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi craft a shaggy-dog script chock-a-block with funny lines, intriguing plot-points and fun characters.
Black, in all three trips behind the camera, proves himself as one of today’s more meaningful and bold filmmakers. Black dives into a 70s aesthetic of pastel patterns, sleaze, and unadulterated flair. The movie’s biggest set-pieces, in true neo-noir/buddy-cop fashion, showcase the glitz and ‘glamour’ of the era’s pastel interiors, porn parties, and car conventions. Touching on 70s hangups (i.e. smog, crushing political corruption), Black never drops the snarky attitude. Provided with a sensory feast and meaty material, Crowe and Gosling develop crackling chemistry whilst hurling themselves into slapstick shenanigans. Rice delivers strong dramatic shades to balance out her co-stars’ wacky antics. Genre fans will also enjoy appearances from familiar faces Matt Bomer, Keith David, and Kim Basinger.
Featuring big laughs, over-the-top stunts, anthropomorphized bees, foul-mouthed kids, nudity, and shocking violence, The Nice Guys is anything but friendly. This neo-noir/buddy-comedy is a lean, mean ode to a bygone era. Its writer/director and spectacular cast deliver one of the year’s most entertaining popcorn flicks.