The Nice Guys Director: Shane Black
Screenwriter: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R |116 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2016
“Before we deal with the crime of the century, let’s get rid of the fucking rotting corpse.”
30 years ago, Shane Black sold his first screenplay to producer Joel Silver. An action flick about a strait-laced detective forced to team with an unhinged cop, Lethal Weapon was a huge success, spawning multiple sequels. Black’s storytelling set a new standard for action comedies and redefined the “buddy film” genre. He was one of the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood, writing movies like The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight before disappearing in the late ’90s.
Black resurfaced in 2005 with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his directorial debut. A neo-noir buddy comedy, the film follows a thief impersonating an actor and a private eye as they attempt to solve a murder. In 2013, he returned with Iron Man 3, a Marvel comic book movie that doubles as one of Black’s signature action-comedies. A snarky superhero and his by-the-books sidekick have to rescue the President of the United States from a terrorist who isn’t a terrorist at all, but rather an actor portraying one. Oh, and it’s set at Christmastime, too. It’s the most Shane Black thing ever, until The Nice Guys that is.
Set in ’70s Los Angeles, The Nice Guys stars Ryan Gosling as Holland March, a down-on-his-luck private eye struggling to raise his daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), after the death of his wife. Holland reluctantly partners with hired enforcer Jack Healy (Russell Crowe) to solve the case of a missing girl (Margaret Qualley) and the seemingly unrelated death of renowned porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). During their investigation, the mismatched duo uncovers a high-level conspiracy that could get them both killed.
Co-written by Anthony Bagarozzi, The Nice Guys is Boogie Nights meets L.A. Confidential; equal parts decadence and decay. Los Angeles is a cesspool of filth and corruption. The Hollywood sign is in disrepair, and the entire city is smothering under a thick blanket of smog. It’s the kind of environment that breeds hard-boiled antiheroes like those in Brett Halliday’s pulp detective novels. Holland and Jackson aren’t nice guys. Jack breaks bones for a living, and Holland is more of a con man than a private eye. In any other movie, they’re the bad guys, but in a world as seedy as this one, they’re the closest thing we’ve got to heroes.
The duo first meets when Jack is paid to deliver a “message” to Holland, and by message, he means a spiral fracture of the radius. Jack thinks Holland is stalking a young girl, Amelia (Qualley), but actually she’s a person of interest in a case he’s working. Once the two realize they’ve been played against each other, they’re forced to team up to uncover the truth. Chemistry is a huge part of what makes Shane Black’s scripts hum, whether it’s Gibson and Glover or Kilmer and Downey Jr., a buddy movie doesn’t work if you don’t believe in the characters at the center of that relationship.
Gosling and Crowe have that kind of explosive chemistry, and they play off each other perfectly here. Gosling is channeling Peter Sellers, with a dash of Lou Costello. His Bud Abbott is Crowe, the straight man who has a laugh at his partner’s expense. Together, they elevate the material with career-best work. I could watch these two argue for hours – they should take their show on the road! I bet they could do a pretty amazing “Who’s on first?” routine.
Throwing a wrench into their already dysfunctional dynamic is 15-year-old Angourie Rice, who delivers a great turn as Holland’s precocious daughter. Exasperated by Holland’s shortcomings, Holly is determined to help her hapless father solve the case, which leads to her searching for clues and getting into trouble with hired assassins and purveyors of pornography. She’s the brains of the operation, and her interactions with Holland and “Mr. Healy” bring a level of sweetness to the sleaziness of Black’s film.
With memorable performances, crackling dialogue, and outrageous comedic action, The Nice Guys is one of the funniest, and most thrilling, films of 2016. Like Riggs from Lethal Weapon, Black’s latest is irreverent and completely unhinged. I’m reminded of a line from that film’s Director’s Cut: “You’re one psycho son of a bitch! But you’re good.”