A vibrant neon 1970’s Hollywood is the backdrop to Shane Black’s latest directoral feature where private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and muscle for hire Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe) team up to investigate a string of deaths in and amungst the seedy underbelly of the porn industry from that era.
It’s fair to say Shane Black’s directing career perhaps meandered somewhat since his fantastic debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Iron Man 3 dividing fans but with the Nice Guys Black goes back to a familiar formula and once again gives an extremely good account for himself. Black has an eye for the settings in which his characters interact and made this period piece draw you in with a very cliche’ but also realised style of everything from buildings to clothes, and then turned the brightness of the colours up to 11 to completely draw you in. There are those that might question him as a director there is one thing he nails nine times out of ten and that is the script. Yes, the buddy cop angle seems to be his comfort blanket but you only have to look at the dynamic between the characters in his other work (Lethal Weapon(s), The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) to see he writes chemistry into his characters with such detail and yet such ease that half of the time it is them you are enjoying more than the plot. There are some of Black’s usual tropes present (private detectives, kidnappings, film noire combined with comedy) but what the viewer is left with is something that even at nearly two hours long has some pace to it and is balanced well between the mystery to be solved and the arcs of the characters.
The casting was pretty spot on with Ryan Gosling in particular showing that he has great comedic timing and isn’t just a pretty face. He was fortunate there were tons of gags written for him but it was his physical comedy where he shines and easily gets the most laughs in the film. Co-star Crowe looked the part as the older and stockier (this is putting it mildly) counterpart who had his own demons, but even still you come away feeling that he could have been given more to do. Saying that the surprise performance came in the form of Angourie Rice who played Ryan Gosling’s daughter. When child actors are given a mature role to play often all you are left with is a desire to throttle that character, or if not throttle at least do some mild harm to them, but here the mature dynamic Rice has with her childish father comes across as lovingly genuine, setting up more than a few comedic moments.
The only thing that works against The Nice Guys is that the plot gets a bit convoluted. It is not the first time that this has happened in one of Black’s films and about two thirds of the way through there’s a series of events that hop, skip and jump there way to a conclusion. For the most part events unravel at a consistent pace until things needed wrapping up and things get a bit frantic until the end. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means and follows Black’s style of mystery where it is neigh on impossible for the viewer to figure out the end until, well, the end.
Writer/director Black is nearly (but not quite) back to his best and there is a lot of fun to be had with The Nice Guys. The mystery and comedy benefits from being well balanced with some great performances from Gosling & Rice thrown in against the a visually glitzy 70’s Hollywood, it is a film well worth watching.