The Nice Guys Review

Posted: May 23, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpsonnice-guys-poster-600x889If there’s one good thing the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done its help bring writer/director Shane Black to prominence. Black became known as a major screenwriter in 1987 on the heels of hits like Lethal Weapon and Predator and would go on to make a lot of money penning action screenplays into the 90s. However after The Long Kiss Goodnight, Black largely disappeared. In 2005 Black would make his directorial debut with a solid little movie called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and while it certainly has built a cult audience over the years, the film was only modestly successful critically and financially. However for the third entry in their Iron Man franchise, Marvel tapped Black as a co-writer and director. I didn’t necessarily love Iron Man 3, but Black’s witty voice did come through strong and more importantly the film proved to be a billion dollar success. Since then, a lot more work has come Black’s way, including the next film in the Predator franchise set to come in the next few years. Black’s first film post Marvel is The Nice Guys, a buddy-crime noir that does everything you’d expect from a Shane Black film but does it pretty well.

Set in Los Angeles of 1977, The Nice Guys follows two men at low points in their lives coming together to solve a missing person’s case. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is an off the books enforcer; a tough guy you call to beat some ass when some scumbag is up to no good. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private detective with an inquisitive and intelligent teenage daughter named Holly (Angourie Rice). The two become involved in a case involving a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). As they investigate, the pair discover a conspiracy of corruption and violence ranging from the pornography business, to the mob, to the auto industry.

Like many of Black’s films, The Nice Guys draws much of its strength from simply allowing its lead characters to interact. Jackson and Holland are both fun characters that fit in well within this world. They’re both remnants of film noir storytelling, but they’re also flawed and light enough to work within the film’s comedy. Russell Crowe brings the right mix of tough guy bravado and world weariness to Jackson Healy, but the real show stealer is Ryan Gosling who gives a downright amazing comedic turn. Gosling really nails the character’s more pathetic aspects, alcoholism, and general incompetence, while also having just enough legitimate chops to sell Holland as a detective. More often than not, Crowe ends up playing straight-man to Gosling and the results are often hilarious. The two also benefit greatly from Black’s script, which is full of all sorts of witty banter and funny one-liners. Generally speaking, The Nice Guys does work very well as a comedy. While it does take a little time for the jokes to really get cooking, once they do they hardly let up. In its best moments the film is hilarious and even at lower comedic points it’s still clever and amusing. Black also seems to have improved as a director as the visual comedy here is a lot stronger than what was seen in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The highlight in this regard is probably the climax, which is infused with a lot of comedy thanks to the physical performance and framing of Gosling.

While the film is a comedy, anyone just expecting a frivolous comedy might be a little taken aback by the levels of violence on display. While The Nice Guys is never gratuitous, it is a violent film and that violence is taken seriously. There are consequences to the action on screen as well as a certain grimness and people do actually die. Personally, I actually really liked this approach and I thought Black did a good job presenting in a violence that could resonate without becoming to overbearing or depressing. In short, the film can be taken seriously while still being quite funny. That said, I don’t think The Nice Guys works fully as just a straight mystery. While a lot of details are set-up and handled well, the script still dumps certain details of the plot in awkward clumps which don’t come naturally and mostly feel like a shortcut to get the characters from here to there. This is especially prominent in the third act. Ideally, a mystery should function a lot smoother than that. Additionally, the ending of the film tries to invoke a certain sense of danger and cynicism in spite of the plot wrap-up. These are classic noir tropes, but they feel perfunctory here and don’t feel like what the movie was building towards.

Weighing all three of Black’s directorial efforts, I’d say The Nice Guys is easily the strongest. It lacks the bloat and awkward storytelling of Iron Man 3 and is also clearly a lot more technically polished than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Additionally, while Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s comedy often overwhelmed and undercut the actual story and characters, The Nice Guys doesn’t have that problem. Black has shown significant growth with each film and with The Nice Guys he’s made his most complete and assured film. That isn’t to say The Nice Guys is a perfect film, its narrative isn’t as tight as it could have been and the ending doesn’t really feel earned, and I also don’t think Black has directed a film as good as some of his written works (namely Lethal Weapon). That all said, what it comes down to is simply this; The Nice Guys is a lot of fun. It’s very funny, has great energy, and has a pair of really great performances. If you’re looking for a fun time at the theater, your search is over.

B+

Comments
  1. Dan O. says:

    Nice review PG. So much fun here. Even if there were some issues to be found with the tone.

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