Films have become rather large distractions. Not in the fact that films are escapism we all love and adore, but distractions from themselves. Big blockbuster films create large gaps, seducing the consumer and making us completely overshadow smaller films. For this reason, every once and a while, a gem will slide through the cracks and absolutely surprise. The Nice Guy’s is that film.
I briefly mentioned The Nice Guys to a group of friends, and immediately, everyone was like, “Who? What? What is that”. This film has managed to fly under the radar, despite excellent pre-screenings and well received trailers. So, what’s it about? The film takes place in LA, 1977. One of the film’s protagonist, Holland March (played by Ryan Gosling) is a private investigator who lives off penny pinching old ladies from case to case. The man is an alcoholic, and a bit of a mess that really is straightened out by the love of his daughter (Angourie Rice). Eventually, March takes a case, one involving the death of a porno actress and crosses paths with the bruiser, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). The case manages to blow up, going in different directions causing our unlikely protagonists to join together and solve the murder mystery.
The first thing that should be noted about The Nice Guys is Writer and Direcotr Shane Black. Shane Black’s work over the years speaks volumes about the man. Lethal Weapon series, The Last Boy Scout, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. The man crafts well written, high tempo, oddities of action films. His dialogue is witty, bouncing from character to character in an organic way. No, each character doesn’t sound too smart for their own good (the Joss Whedon effect) or trail off in slightly pretentious monologues (Quentin Tarantino). The Nice Guys closely matches Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, not in narrative structure (no flashbacks) but the film does feature a film noire feeling with character narration from time to time. Not only that, but the plot set up, is relatively ‘familiar’ to that of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Which, for matters sake, please see. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is another one of Hollywood’s lost gems.
The Nice Guys is in itself, an oddity. Screenings that had been released prior to mine had received rave reviews that temporarily poisoned my expectations. Walking in, I expected something almost too good. I received something even better than what I imagined. Shane Black’s writing style, mixed with a suitable direction, does not hand hold the audience. You will not be force fed information, rather given it in a string of dialogue, only for that key to unlock a door later on. It requires the audience to constantly listen to dialogue, which rewards the audience with hilarious whippy quotable moments. The Nice Guys might be the funniest film of the year, or past few years. Moments of intrigue will be sprinkled with absolutely random, “Did that just really happen?” moments. My audience (and myself) bursted out in belly aching laughter at least 30-40 times. The plot reinforces comedic elements, but the characters themselves really sell it.
Black’s script is phenomenal, his direction is solid but the film is carried by Gosling’s and Crowe’s performances. While protagonists in the traditional sense, these ‘nice guys’ aren’t technically ‘good guys’. They are self absorbed, idiotic drunks who manage to find cracks in the pavement and wiggle their way into money, success and cases. Black manages to make them relatable in understanding their motives, rather than succumbing to what the audience would deem as ‘right’. Ryan Gosling’s March is a terrible detective, always too drunk, relying on the designated driving of his 12 year old daughter. Healy and March both have back stories, ones that aren’t went over with a fine comb, but addressed in a manner that requires your full attention. You miss a string of dialogue, and you might miss why March, or even Healy are the way they are. Russell Crowe brings a modesty to the film that I like. While not completely vulnerable, he feels like a Dad type that never quite made it there, and respects, adores family, despite not really having one. The biggest selling point between the two characters is their chemistry together. Despite being similar people, they don’t necessarily get along well. Which adds for more comedic elements.
The Nice Guys has some traditional set ups that quickly pave away from genre standards. A few times a moment would be set up with the obvious conclusion, only for it to completely course correct and deliver a much more entertaining resolution. In particular this happens a lot with March’s daughter, Holly, who quickly felt like the film’s damsel in distress. Instead, Shane Black, like his females in prior films, writes Holly to stand up for herself, making quick judgments that often save her own life, rather than have it saved for her.
Some of the flaws in The Nice Guys might just come from the way it is perceived from some people. Shane Black’s material isn’t the most accessible, mainly because it requires absolute attention. This film doesn’t rely on constant explosions (or exposition), but rather the connection our characters make. Regardless, The Nice Guys carries a bit of a beer belly runtime bloat. The film could have used about a 10-15 minute trim and been that much better because of it. Adding to that, much like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the villain’s ‘scheme’ is a bit ridiculous, so much so that most audiences members will say, “They went through that, to get to that?”.
Deadpool blew me away. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice broke my heart. Captain America: Civil War reminded me of being a little kid. The Nice Guys made me glad to be an adult. The film’s adult themes, hammered home from Shane Black’s fantastic script and direction make The Nice Guys a consistently funny, all around enjoyable action noire film. The Nice Guys takes the top spot as my favorite film of the year.
FOUR out of FIVE