By Hanajun Chung
With “The Nice Guys,” writer/director Shane Black has created a love-letter to the sub-genre he perfected decades ago.
Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the film follows a middle-aged bruiser with the heart of gold, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who—for the right price—uses his fists to send messages to unlucky individuals. He “visits” a single-father P.I. named Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a job requested by a young lady named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). After Healy’s business with Amelia leads to violent, unfavorable consequences, it isn’t long until he requests the services of March in locating Amelia’s whereabouts.
Written and directed by Shane Black, “The Nice Guys” carries the writer/director’s DNA throughout. The script is clever and slightly unconventional, delivering a quirky mystery that the film doesn’t take quite seriously, which oddly turns out to be a good thing. Those interesting in a straightforward mystery might be disappointed. The joy of watching this movie is seeing how Black subverts expectations in the genre. It doesn’t always work, inadvertently making certain moments feel much more mechanical, rather than natural.
Like “Iron Man 3” and “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” “The Nice Guys” does a great job in conveying story through action, but is best when a comedy. The script and dialogue pop onscreen more than any other element. The banter is witty, hilarious and satisfyingly balanced in controlling tone. Black’s films usually feature awesome kid characters and it’s no different here, gaining the biggest laughs against some powerhouse performers.
Every lead player is quite phenomenal. Crowe’s Healy is a lovable bear that also has a real darkness in him. Crowe does an excellent job in conveying a guy who, despite the violent and unfriendly nature of his work, wants to do the right thing. Gosling’s March, on the other hand, is a drunk crook of a PI whose only redeeming qualities only relate to his young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice).
Some elements of the movie are a bit meaner than it should, despite the intention of recalling pulp iconography. The violence can be unintentionally shocking in a way that provokes nervous laughter, and many of the female characters and roles don’t come off as great. The best character in the film hands down is a little girl, but the scale definitely feels imbalanced in other quality parts.
“Buddy-cop” films are a dime-a-dozen, but Black’s name attached to the screenplay should give indication for a special experience, since Black is responsible for the greatest examples that the sub-genre has to offer (e.g. “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boyscouts,” etc.). Reuniting with the producer that put Black on the map (Joel Silver), Black also reminds audiences of his directorial chops, shining especially bright in the action and the performances.