Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice
Genre: Action/ Comedy
In 1977 Los Angeles down on his luck private investigator Holland March (Gosling) is paid a visit by Jackson Healy (Crowe), a man paid to hurt people for a living, and his job is to hurt Holland, which he does. However fate then subsequently puts this unlikely duo together as they are both tasked to investigate the murder of a fading porn star, a case which takes them to the darker side of Los Angeles where anyone involved tends to end up dead.
Ah welcome back Shane Black! How I missed you! He is not the most prolific of writer/ directors, but there is no denying that when on top form he is one of the finest writers of snappy, witty and quotable dialogue there is (Well, he was once one of the highest paid writers in Hollywood after all!). However there is also no denying that his last cinematic outing was a little bit of a disappointment. Though Iron Man 3 had some good moments, maybe my expectations for the very high potential of the combination of his writing and Robert Downey Jr were indeed a little too high (especially after the absolutely hilarious Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), but it certainly did overall fail to deliver on its potential.
Well The Nice Guys is certainly very similar to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in setting, premise, plot and genre, but certainly should not just be compared to that film as, like that film, it is very much a blatant genre piece and is happy to unashamedly embrace that fact. The buddy movie genre, with a chalk and cheese leading duo and a combination of action and comedy will always exist and many, many films of this genre will be churned out by the Hollywood machine as when got right, it is a genre that can really work.
Black never even contemplates trying to reinvent the wheel with The Nice Guys; he firmly nails his flag to the mast by happily using all the familiar tropes of this genre. However this means he can focus on the key elements that make films of this genre (and indeed many genres) work; script, performances and characters. Get these elements right and the rest will fall into place around them with consummate ease.
The plot itself is certainly very contrived and episodic at times, sometimes tying itself up in knots and relying on outrageously unbelievable coincidences while taking a few liberties. However, as long we believe in the characters and want to spend time with them, then whatever weird and wonderful situations the plot throws at them are always forgivable. Likewise of course a film of this genre could have the most intelligent and gripping plot ever written, but if the two main characters are not worth caring about or routing for, then that certainly presents a major challenge for those making it, and one that often leads to failure.
They key element as to why The Nice Guys works is that we are given two characters who are an absolute pleasure to be around as they are likeable, engaging and hilarious. This is not only down to Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi’s excellent script, with the expected array of razor sharp and highly quotable exchanges and one liners, but more importantly the two leading performances.
As the two leads Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are exceptional, not only in their individual roles, but they also share an obvious on-screen chemistry, which is of course crucial for a film of this genre to work. For Russell Crowe this is the kind of role he was always made for; when on form he can demonstrate the range to be a likeable and funny screen presence, while equally showing a believable rough edge as someone who would not hesitate to kill if the situation deemed it necessary.
Ryan Gosling is for me personally more of a revelation; there is no doubt that he is a fine actor (not quite convinced about his abilities behind the camera yet though), and it is nice to see him playing characters other than brooding, silent types and flexing his comedy muscles. Indeed comedy is arguable more difficult to get right than being brooding and moody, and though he was certainly funny in The Big Short, his role in The Nice Guys is undoubtedly more of a challenge, but he nails it. Not only is his delivery often spot on, but also the physical elements of his performance.
Excellent support is also provided by Angourie Rice as Holland’s daughter; though her character is sometimes very much at the mercy of the narrative and feels like she turns up and does certain things because it is at the convenience of the narrative, she most definitely holds her own against Crowe and Gosling. The three of them make for a great trio, though of course the film is first and foremost a buddy movie, she does at times add a further dynamic to the plot which only serves to enhance it.
Though there are hints at the character’s backstory, the film does not dwell on them and there are not any character arcs of any real depth during the narrative, with Black and Bagarozzi’s script solely trying to focus on comedy, which does in turn sometimes prevent there from ever being a real genuine sense of danger for our main characters, when actually more is at stake than it actually feels like. However the farcical element of the plot is also used to great effect in the script, with enough self-awareness without ever feeling too self-indulgent.
The Nice Guys is certainly not perfect and its hollow and farcical plot maybe takes a few too many liberties at times, but with the great script and two leads on top form, there is no denying that it is one immensely enjoyable and often laugh-out-loud hilarious film, and an inevitable contender for funniest film of 2016.
A film that is unashamedly happy to be very much a genre piece, but this enables it to focus on why the buddy movie is one of the most popular tried and tested genres; The Nice Guys is hilarious and highly entertaining from start to finish.