Film: The Nice Guys
Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Margaret Qualley
Every Spring/Summer there seems to be a big studio movie that everyone exclaims is a masterpiece. Last year was Mad Max: Fury Road and that ended up being my favorite film of 2015. This year is The Nice Guys, a movie that has almost universal acclaim for being the funniest and most thrilling movie of the year. Well, listen to the hype. The Nice Guys is an immaculately crafted trip into ’80s noir (even though it’s set in 1977) that sideshows as proof that most people making movies today are just doing it wrong. It has the makings of a disaster with an overloaded plot and cavalcade of jokes, but director/writer Shane Black and writer Anthony Bagarozzi are so obsessed with detail that everything has its deserved place.
Tough-guy-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is forced to join up with drunk private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) when the daughter of a higher-up at the justice department goes missing. Amelia (Margaret Qualley), the woebegotten protester of pollution by automobiles, is being hunted down by some seedy porn thugs after making an “experimental” film and her only salvation may be with the boorish odd couple sent to save her. Here’s the catch, though: more than just porn thugs are after her and the duo has no idea what they’ve gotten into.
Before getting to Shane Black’s spitfire dialogue, let’s take a moment to appreciate the brilliance that is fat Russell Crowe and drunk Ryan Gosling. Crowe as Healy moves like a big, sweaty brick wall. He’s trying to get over some personal shit and the people who keep hindering him from completing a job are just pissing him off more. Crowe plays the role to perfection, as does Gosling with March. March resembles a slapstick drunk, one who can’t help but feed into his nastier inhibitions all while keeping focused on the task at hand. Sometimes he stumbles onto dead bodies and sometimes he’s punched in the face so many times that he’s put into the right direction. Gosling is working so hard for the laughs needed to alleviate March’s family-ruining alcoholism, and every high-pitched squeal elicits the desired effect. These two are a match made in heaven and they’re given the best material in the world to act out.
The film itself is not unlike the anarchic pleasantries of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, but this time with more of an acid tongue and a hell of a lot more violence. The loopy structure of Vice stays but instead has every narrative revelation sidetracked by drunk delusions or a gangland shootout. It’s a movie with a destination and a million painstakingly detailed speedbumps.
The Nice Guys is the kind of film that puts everyone in harm’s way, including scenes where a child is thrown out the window and March’s young daughter watches a sex film to get information from a sex worker. It’s a movie that looks nasty on the page but is passed off with such comedic bravura that you almost forget about it all. It has one foot firmly planted in the seedier genre pictures of the ’70s but has the other not actively being un-PC. It’s clear that Black is trying to make a good time at the movies, not take some political stance on what is actually okay and not okay to laugh at in 2016. If anything, the gags are mined from physical comedies and refined by the crazily sardonic dialogue.
There’s an argument here that Black, a man known to be tied to his obsession with noir (see: Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), doesn’t have a single dramatic bone in his body. And to that statement, I retort with a loud “hell no!” Black treats his Nice Guys characters with the same reality that he implements with every gunshot wound. March and Healy are two people living in a broken world. Their skewed views of justice are welcome in this world filled with sex parties, kid touchers, and corrupt government officials. Their collateral damage isn’t justified, so they wallow. This is a damn sad movie dressed in glitzy neon and striped slacks.
So, there you have it. The Nice Guys is this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. A propulsive genre pic that shows the rest of Hollywood how the hell it’s done. As the trailer music claims: “Feels right in this motherfucker.”
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