Early on in The Nice Guys as co-writer and director Shane Black introduces his eventual buddy protagonists, one of them is hired by an older woman who is looking for her missing husband. Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot pans the camera over to a mantle that prominently features an urn with the name of the missing husband. “When did he go missing?” the question is asked as we’re let in on the joke and the reply is given “After the funeral”. While this is one of the many jokes that Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi weave into their script, the two are laying the foundation for their not so nice guy protagonist antics because right after the camera cuts back and forth, the job is taken, and the money is exchanged.
This job that Holland March (Ryan Gosling), shady and a poor P.I. is hired for isn’t a priority for March since the solution is starring at him in the face however, that doesn’t stop him from conducting a thorough investigation that ends up with a slapstick result. The real investigation begins earlier than that when adult actress Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) is found dead, but her aunt Mrs. Glenn (Lois Smith) swears that her niece is alive. In March’s investigation, he comes across Amelia (Margaret Qualley) who hires Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to rough up March and get him off her back.
After all the character introductions are made and March and Healy reluctantly become a duo thanks to Holly March (Angourie Rice), the narrative steps on the gas and Black thrusts you right into the heat of the action of finding Amelia before the bad guys do to silence an experimental film with a message of protest made against gas pollution. This leads to the observation by March that this experimental adult film’s plot is more important than the real reason adult films are made, and he has a point – the plot is never the focal point.
It’s just another shining example of observational humor that Shane Black adds to his arsenal of jokes that are delivered by both Gosling and Crowe in tandem. Together the two form quite the team – bringing a certain level of charm to their on screen rapport. Gosling plays the loose cannon, or as his daughter Holly calls him, the worst detective in the world and Crowe plays the strong silent type. Together they’re a dynamic duo that pays homage to a long forgotten era of dynamic duos. They’re Batman and Robin but if the two were told that, i’m sure a fight would ensue over who’s who. Yet underneath the wisecracks and one-upmanship on display are 2 flawed characters just scraping by, wanting to do the right thing.
For example, Holly is her father’s voice of reason, the angel on his shoulder – she is his crutch to lean on when times are tough and the two are trying to catch up after a tragedy. Angourie Rice holds her own against the prowess of Gosling and Crowe showcasing her natural acting ability. In addition to being a P.I, Holland is an alcoholic who blames himself for his wife’s (Holly’s mother) death due to a gas explosion inside their home. As March gives the explanation to Healy, Gosling does so with sincerity but never letting the power of his emotions overtake the moment. Given one side-splitting laugh out loud moment after the next, Black and Bagarozzi’s script hits a dense emotional level that balances the tone of the film while still keeping its edge to it.
Throughout its narrative, Shane Black keeps you hooked into every detail that March and Healy come across. The result is an engaging, wildly original, genre bending trip offering non-stop action amidst a conspiracy level mystery. And at its heart and soul are Gosling and Crowe. Often Gosling goes full slapstick with his comedy – simultaneously trying to smoke a cigarette, keep a bathroom stall door open and pull his pants up; all with a broken arm. Another time sees Gosling trying to impress a party goer only to tumble down a hill and inadvertently stumble across a dead body that strengthens the case being investigated.
But an argument can be made that Gosling hits the comedy jackpot with every high pitched yells while under duress. Goslings comedic timing only elevates the screenplay that Black and Bagarozzi put to screen. Let’s not discount Russell Crowe either, who gets excited over having a Yoo-hoo and cut to the next scene and Healy is carrying two full cases of the chocolate milk drink with a grin on his face.
Point being, you’re never too old to enjoy the simple pleasure a Yoo-hoo can provide.
Majority of the film focuses on the not so nice guys that the villains of this story become lost in the shuffle. About halfway through, we’re introduced to Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), a high ranking official in the Justice department and Amelia’s mother. Judith hires March and Healy to find Amelia before the number of Bond like henchmen do and kill her. For a simple plot, The Nice Guys loses itself in its own web of intricacies. Anyone outside of March, March and Healy could be the villain – the problem is identifying them and their overall motive.
Among all of the franchises, sequels, prequels and recognizable IP that are distributed to the masses, Shane Black provides us with a fresh and welcomed alternative. The Nice Guys has the ambition to turn into something with threads of continuity in a spin-off or sequel but has the sense to stay in its own lane and tell a complete and isolated story. There is potential for more exploration for these characters and this 70’s inspired stylistic world but that would be a disservice to the point and the landing that Shane Black sticks. Original and compelling storytelling will always come first to a franchise.
Overall, The Nice Guys is a transportive experience. 1970’s Los Angeles is full of vibrant colors, a vintage aesthetic, juxtaposed with unhealthy addictions, toxic relationships and poor air quality. I can smell the smog from the comfort of my seat and feel it creep deep into my lungs – that’s just how methodical the atmosphere is built around the production design by Richard Bridgland. From a technical standpoint, The Nice Guys paints a vivid picture, highlighted by the era in which the story takes place in – an era full of possibilities.
Screenplay By: Anthony Bagarozzi & Shane Black
Directed By: Shane Black
Music By: John Ottman & David Buckley
Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Yaya Da Costa, Kim Basinger
Edited By: Joel Negron
Release Date: May 20, 2016
Running Time: 1 Hour 56 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%