Directed by Shane Black
Starring Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, & Kim Basinger
Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
Since writing Lethal Weapon, Shane Black has become one of the most famous screenwriters in Hollywood, a man who became known for his humorous dialogue, complex plotting and characters, with the ability to subvert the action genre and setting his films at Christmas. He now makes his third film as a director, a delightfully funny and violent neo-noir mystery.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a thug who is paid to beat people up for a living. One of those unfortunate people is Holland March (Ryan Gosling) - a private detective investigating the death of a famous porn star - Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). After Healy is attacked by gangsters looking for college student Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley) he has to team up with March to find the missing woman before the gangsters do: leading them into a conspiracy involving LA based pornography and the American automotive industry.
Black has returned to familiar territory after his dalliance in the superhero genre with Iron Man 3. A cynic may say Black lacks range or invention, but Black is too good with this material and the same criticism could be laid at the feet of Alfred Hitchcock. With his writing partner Anthony Bagarozzi, Black crafts a tight mystery that keeps the audience guessing - it is not obvious how all the evidence and story threads connect which makes for a great mystery. They clearly know their thrillers - the story is a little like a reverse Chinatown where the investigation in The Nice Guys starts out on the sex industry before discovering an environmental cover-up and, because of Crowe's casting as a violent investigator, it's easy to think of his role in L.A. Confidential: another great film with a complex multi-layered plot in a period setting. The pornography angle reminded me of the classic British film Get Carter, although The Nice Guys is a lot lighter in tone.
The Nice Guys has a deliberately old-school feel to it. It embraces it's film noir influences with its detective story involving a conspiracy involving pornography and corporate corruption - as well as tropes like the brooding voice-over from its main two players meeting various nefarious figures, which the characters do not know who to trust - including high ranking officers; the investigation takes characters to various locations - from high end parties to slums.
The Nice Guys embraces its 70s setting and Black does a marvellous trick of making LA look like a fun and funky place and be a cesspool of sleaze and pollution at the same time. It's a neon-lit city that suffers from smog, sex and drugs. The party is a great snapshot of a place where people are having fun: a band is singing Earth, Wind and Fire and the partygoers are surrounded by ladies lacking clothing.
Black and his team formed a great cast. Crowe is great in the lead as the man who uses his fists to get information. Crowe's broad frame makes him believable as the heavy for hire and he is the most interesting character in the film: a man who questions whether he is a good man but does have a certain level of morality. Gosling also shows his range - for an actor who has an image for being cool, suave and good looking - he plays a clumsy fella who enjoys a few drinks. He is money-grabbing and amoral when it comes treating his client yet he does care about his daughter. However March is at times so hopeless it's mysterious why Healy doesn't just work alone - Black and Bagarozzi should have made him a little more competent with his detective skills.
Young Australian actress Angourie Rice was smart beyond her 13 years. Her American accent is so good I didn't even realise she was not an American national. Her character is a little too precocious for her own good at times but Black is known for having smart-ass kids in his films and he knows how to make these characters likeable.
The film also has a fine supporting cast that includes Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger, Beau Knapp and Keith David. Any film or TV series is improved 20 times just for having Keith David in it. When we finally get to meet Margaret Qualley as Amelia she was a hoot when she rants and raves.
Although The Nice Guys is an entertaining mystery it is also a great comedy to the point it is better than most full on comedies. Black's ear for dialogue is ever present and the writing and direction allows for some funny visual gags like how our investigating duo try to dump a body. Black knows how to mix comedy into the action and gives us the best of both worlds.
The Nice Guys is not as action packed as the trailer suggests. When the action does appear it is well staged, ranging from shoot-outs to full on brawls. Black even plays on this by having the characters walk into an action scene and smartly walk out again before they can are seen.
The Nice Guys is an entertaining romp that has a great mix of genres being funny and thriller in equal amount. The film is a perfect storm of directing, writing and acting and makes a great alternative to the big blockbusters currently out at the moment.