THE NICE GUYS (9 out of 10) Directed by Shane Black; Written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi; Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Beau Knapp; Rated R for “violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use”; Running time 116 minutes; In wide release May 20, 2016.
Fans of Shane Black, rejoice! Wrapped up like a Christmas present (ha!) in late spring, we have his signature brand of wit, film noir violence, and buddy cop hijinks on full display against the backdrop of 1977 Los Angeles.
LA is gripped under a blanket of smog, the gas lines of the energy crisis, and shocked by the murder of porn star Misty Mountains. Enter Holland March (Gosling), a private eye of some renown despite being a borderline alcoholic and ne’er do well father to precocious 13 year old Holly. He is hired to look for Misty, as her far-sighted but financially well off aunt swears she saw her the day after she died. As part of his investigation he is tracking another girl, Amelia, who may have information on what Misty was up to.
Amelia, however, does not want to be found, and pays muscle-for-hire Jackson Healy (Crowe) to beat up Holland and intimidate him from coming looking for her again. But when other thugs show up to interrogate Jackson about what he knows about Amelia, he decides to team up with/hire Holland for the ever-so-classic 48 hour ticking clock to get to the bottom of the case. And that’s all in the first 15 minutes.
It descends from there into a story of greed, sex, murder, porn, corruption, and… environmentalism? Like the best detective dramas, its twists and turns will keep you guessing. And every loose thread gets beautifully resolved, as even tiny moments earlier in the story end up having greater meaning by the end.
Shane Black is a master of his craft here, and he is certainly having fun. Speaking of having fun, both Crowe and Gosling seem to be having the time of their lives. It’s Crowe’s best performance in a decade– since James’s Mangold’s 2007 western 3:10 to Yuma— and he reminds us why he’s a fun actor to watch when he’s on. Comparisons to his breakout performance in LA Confidential are noted and warranted, as that film provides an almost perfect tonal companion piece to The Nice Guys— except that LA Confidential was never this funny.
This would also be Gosling’s best in a decade… except for his chameleonlike performance in The Big Short…. and his amazing performance in Drive. But still, one of his best.
But even more praise should go to teenager Angourie Rice, who steals the movie from two veteran actors. Not only is Holly the moral compass of the film, she’s also the most competent detective among the three of them.
The real star here is the script and the direction. It is funny, heartfelt, riveting, exciting, and did I mention funny? It’s one of the most perfect scripts in a while, comparable to the Coen’s work on Hail, Caesar! or Bridge of Spies.
There is a single complaint, and that is that Matt Bomer is woefully underutilized. His character is the only underwritten part of the film, but, without going too far into spoiler territory, that is likely by design. As the strong, silent type, he’s likely not supposed to have a fleshed out backstory or motivation, and despite being fourth billed on the credits, doesn’t show up for most of the first hour of the film. But it seems a waste for the multi-talented Bomer whom it would’ve been nice to see more of.
This is a near-perfect film, and fans of Shane Black’s particular brand of film will enjoy themselves immensely. Even those unfamiliar with Black or his work will find this a palatable, enjoyable introduction to his work, especially if they’re in the mood for a 70’s buddy detective drama with as many jokes as bullets.
9 out of 10