Movie Review: ‘The Nice Guys’
R | 1h 56min
Director: Shane Black
by Jason Koenigsberg
The Nice Guys starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling is a buddy cop formula action picture mixed with a film noir plot and some of the funniest one liners in a very long time. The retro WB logo that precedes the opening shot of the Hollywood sign set to “Papa was a Rolling Stone” establishes the mood right away. We are in 1977 LA and the film reminds us in some very clever ways throughout the rest of the movie.
Written and directed by Shane Black, The Nice Guys is very reminiscent of his previous work especially an explosive early action scene that was very similar to the opening scene of Lethal Weapon (1987), which was the script that made Shane Black famous. It is has a very similar vibe to his 2005 LA based comedy/mystery/noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring Robert Downey Jr. The plot involves two mismatched private eyes (Crowe and Gosling) investigating the death of an adult film star while searching for the missing daughter (Margaret Qualley) of a Justice Department official (Kim Basinger).
The acting is superb especially from the leads. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have never been funnier and they have great chemistry. They work well as foils of each other and develop nicely to where you see how their characteristics rub off on the other and it feels natural. The other performance worth mentioning is newcomer Angourie Rice who plays Gosling’s thirteen year old daughter that wants to help her father and his new partner out on this case. She also provides the films moral compass in a way that felt genuine and never forced.
The sets and costume designs are perfect. Both compliment each other and capture LA and the late 70’s very well. It’s cinematography was sharp but this movie might have benefited with a grainier film stock or softer look to make it feel like it was from the 1970’s. The way it was shot it looked too polished and digital. The Nice Guys feels like a movie out of another time not just because of its authentic look, but in this day and age where most summer blockbusters are comic book movies or established franchises or properties The Nice Guys is very unique. Twenty years ago if this movie were to come out it would not have felt very different, in fact in 1996 it would have probably starred Mel Gibson in the Russell Crowe role and maybe Ethan Hawke in Ryan Gosling’s role. It would have been a nifty combination of Boogie Nights meets Lethal Weapon and probably would have been a hit. Today, The Nice Guys is a novel curio that feels refreshingly vintage to the point where I am surprised Warner Bros. gave it the green light.
Not only is The Nice Guys well acted, directed and often hilarious, but it contains some biting satire on political issues of the Jimmy Carter era that provide smart social commentary about the politics of 2016 with gas shortages, police corruption, and energy use. The most inspired gag involved environmental demonstrations of protesters pretending to be dead to illustrate how the smog in LA is killing the birds. Most of these political issues tie into the actual mystery which is one of the funniest film noir’s since The Big Lebowski (1998).
The The Nice Guys fits in perfectly with the rest of the films Shane Black has written and/or directed from its opening moments, all the way to the final shot where he includes very subtle Christmas imagery. Most of his films revolve around the holiday season or at least contain Christmas motifs and for a while I thought this would be the only one that does not, but the final shot contains a shout out to Christmas. The Nice Guys is a formula movie but it uses that formula in a way that is refreshingly clever, intelligent and fun.
Check out this animated Nice Guys promo done fittingly in the retro style of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.