Review: The Nice Guys
Shane Black may not have invented the buddy movie (Butch And Sundance were there first). But he did create the modern version of it. When Lethal Weapon, made form his script, was released in 1987, the most recent buddy cop movie of that type was 1982’s 48 Hours, which made a movie star of Eddie Murphy. The earlier film was great. But it didn’t develop a whole sub-genre. Lethal Weapon did. It also launched the career of its screenwriter.
From there Black would go on to duke it out with Joe Estzerhas for the title of “Highest Paid Screenwriter In Hollywood”. In the process he wrote one of Tony Scott’s best films (The Last Boy Scout) and Renny Harlin’s absolute best (The Long Kiss Goodnight). But after the latter got written off as a flop (it has since become a cult film of sorts) Black pretty much left the business for about 8 years. He made his comeback in 2005 with the quite funny action comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That movie helped another Hollywood icon, Robert Downey Jr, make a comeback. This led to Black getting hired to script and direct Iron Man 3, which was a smash. Now Black is back with his third directorial opus. And it is by far the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.
The Nice Guys, which Black co-wrote as well as directs, is part buddy action/comedy, part noir with a few elements of satire thrown in. Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the film follows private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and tough guy enforcer Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe). These characters don’t know each other as the film begins and when they do meet up not long in, Healey is breaking March’s arm. Yet soon after, they become (as per the usual in a Shane Black movie) reluctant partners in a tricky case involving the porn industry, the big three auto manufacturers, the Justice department and a killer nicknamed John Boy (Black foreshadows that nickname earlier when a TV announcer refers to the Waltons.
The plot, while engaging, isn’t the main point of The Nice Guys. The movie is about the characters and attitude. In that regard, it delivers. In some ways, March and Healey recall the lead characters of Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout: men haunted by the past just barely holding on. Both exhibit a certain world weariness yet leap into action when spurred on. Holland has a daughter named Holly (Angourie Rice) who is a lot smarter than her daddy. This particular apsect plays out well and Rice gives a great performance as a girl who’s both smartass and vulnerable. Kim Basinger pops up as a Justice department prosecutor. Black has fun with all of this and succeeds in taking the audience along for the ride.
Any movie involving both Crowe and Basinger is bound to evoke memories of LA Confidential and any movie referencing the LA porn industry in the late 70s is bound to evoke memories of Boogie Nights (this one is explicit in one reference to the desire to make a porno film that succeeds as art). This one may not quite reach the level of those 2 1997 masterworks. But I don’t think that’s its intent. It stands on its own.
Like the two previously mentioned films, it depicts the period quite well from set design to soundtrack choices (much use of wah-wah guitars).
The Nice Guys is a rare breed of film: It isn’t a prestige picture. But it isn’t a mindless blockbuster. It’s quite well-done and should be seen ASAP before it gets creamed by the next X-Men movie.