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Josh Reviews The Nice Guys

Shane Black has been partially responsible for quite a few movies that I have loved (boy, twenty years ago I thought Lethal Weapon was one of the greatest movies ever made), but it was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which Mr. Black wrote and directed) that made me a forever fan of his work.  (And also of Robert Downey Jr.  And Michelle Monaghan.  It’s a pretty amazing movie and if you’ve never seen it you really need to go watch it immediately.)  I loved seeing Mr. Black working in big-budget-blockbuster land with the terrific Iron Man Three, but when I learned that he was working on another buddy-cop mystery/action flick, I was very excited.  The Nice Guys does not disappoint.  In fact, it is a triumph, a spectacular work of adult filmmaking that is thrilling and ferociously funny.

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In LA in 1977, a mostly drunk private eye named Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is asking around for a girl named Amelia, who has hired a thug named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to beat up Holland to get him off her trail.  And thus is a beautiful friendship formed.  March and Healy eventually wind up working together in an attempt to locate the now-truly-missing Amelia, while unraveling a bizarre multiple-murder case involving porn and politics and the automobile industry.

The Nice Guys is a delight from start to finish.  Mr. Black has long since proven himself as the master of the buddy comedy film, and in Holland and March he has delivered a wonderful new set of characters.  Both Mr. Gosling and Mr. Crowe are phenomenal, each perfectly cast and each moving out of their usual serious-dramatic personas to deliver some killer comedy.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen either actor play a character quite like these two, and they are each so deliciously great.  The Nice Guys works because it is joyous fun watching these two bounce off one another.  Ryan Gosling is a riot as the nervous, cowardly, hard-drinking March, a man content to drift through life while making the least possible bit of effort towards anything.  And yet, March is a brilliant detective when he wants to be, and we can see that his love for his young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) is real.  Mr. Gosling is given some incredibly juicy comedy bits throughout the film, and he nails each one perfectly.  He also — ably abetted by Mr. Black’s sharp script — paints a picture of the tragedy that broke Holland without ever overplaying that note.  Mr. Crowe, meanwhile, is equally perfect as Healy, a man used to using his fists rather than his brains, but who for some reason finds himself driven to protect the young girl who hired him.  Healy is equally as broken as March, equally convinced that the world is shit and that he is mostly useless, but something about the case — and March’s relationship with his daughter Holly — sparks something in him.  Young Ms. Rice is also terrific as Holly, easily holding her own with Mr. Gosling and Mr. Crowe.  By including an innocent young girl in the depraved world of the film, Mr. Black is almost daring the audience to reject him and this story.  But that would be misunderstanding the film, in my opinion, as Holly is in many ways the heart of the story, and her toughness and innocence — despite all she has seen and been through (she persevered through the same tragedy that shattered her father) — is the lone ray of light for both March and Healy in the increasingly vile city in which they live and work.

I love a good noir mystery, and Mr. Black has created a clever yarn filled with twists and turns.  The film’s structure, using a noir mystery to tell a story about the seedy not-quite-buried history of the city of LA, reminds me quite a bit of Chinatown.  I assume that was intentional.  But this is Chinatown with a Shane Black spin, telling a bizarre tale that links porn films with the smog and pollution that was literally choking LA in the seventies.  It works spectacularly well, the twisty story held aloft by our investment in the film’s wonderful main characters and Mr. Black’s always witty dialogue.

One can imagine a very cliche version of this story, in which March and Healy learn from one another to each become a better man.  Thank goodness Mr. Black avoids such predictability.  In fact, the film’s magnificent final scene gives a big middle finger to that sort of usual Hollywood ending.  It’s a gloriously daring, bleak ending (that nonetheless had me laughing very, very hard).  And yet, though it’s hard to argue that this is not a deeply cynical film, The Nice Guys does still have a tremendous amount of heart — despite the many deaths and other bad pieces of business that go down as the story progresses — which I found to be tremendously endearing.  In large part I think this is because Mr. Black, along with Mr. Gosling and Mr. Crowe and Ms. Rice, were able to create such wonderful characters who we can love and invest with despite — or perhaps because — they are such flawed, imperfect human beings who don’t have a usual simple, predictable arc of learning and growing in the film.

Some other notes:

The seventies setting of the film is used to great effect.  Using the old version of the Warner Brothers studio logo at the start of the film was a great touch, as were the funky fonts used for the main credits.  There are some wild outfits in the film, and I particularly enjoyed all of Holland March’s leisure suits.  The film also boasts some great music and score.

I loved seeing Kim Basinger in a small but important role.  Mr. Black knew just how to use Ms. Basinger to the greatest effect.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed seeing Kim Basinger back on the screen.

Is this the first Shane Black movie in a long while not to be set during Christmas??

That elevator scene could be one of the greatest things I have seen in a movie theatre in a long while.

The Nice Guys is the type of smart, adult film that I would love to see more of.  The film is intense and very, very funny.  It’s a wonderfully original concoction, another triumph from Shane Black.  Go see it!

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