The Nice Guys – Review
We are in Los Angeles during the debauched, extravagant, voguish 1970s. Private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling), and unscrupulous detective Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), join forces to solve a mystery concerning the disappearance of a young girl and the death of a porn actress, that seem to be connected.
This is not the first time Shane Black comes up with an improbable duo, that has to face a powerful antagonist. Thirty years ago, Black sold one of his scripts to Joel Silver: it was an action movie about a serious and professional detective, who was forced to accept as a colleague a complete wacko named Riggs. That movie was Lethal Weapon. After its three sequels, Silver produced The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The latter marked Black’s debut as a director.
After ten years the two jumped into a new project together: The Nice Guys. When talking about his latest movie, screenwriter-director Shane Black explains the way he has flung his two protagonists in an era of dissolution: “Los Angeles during that period was a rotten city, where smog covered its entire crust and Hollywood Boulevard had become a filthy mess for porn. Within this setting two idiots stumble upon issues that they can’t handle, unveiling a conspiracy of gigantic proportions. Decadence was part of those times. Our question was whether we were able to make the two characters inept for the mission they had to accomplish.”
The mission is accomplished, thanks to the extraordinary comedic chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Gosling will amuse wildly, for the way he plays a Jack Lemmon-esque bungler, who seems to be a magnet to punches. His right-hand man is the Walter Matthau-ish Russell Crowe, who is the pragmatic one between the two and sticks to the tough-guy persona. However the true leader of the mission — also in reforming the ethics of the two adults — is the adorably wise, lovely and gutsy thirteen-year old Holly, daughter of March, played effervescently by young Australian actress Angourie Rice.
As icing on the cake (as regards the cast), there is also an extended cameo by Kim Basinger, playing an intriguing Department of Justice agent — that might wink at her and Crowe’s previous noir collaboration in LA Confidential. And the cherry on top, that will tickle pink, is Matt Bomer in an unusually despicable role.
The film truly is a detective story, however the director overturns the genre. It’s a buddy movie with an enigmatic puzzle has to be solved. A boozy-naive Don Quixote and a macho-overweight Sancho Panza go hunting for clues, for their obscure scavenger hunt case. They traverse an apparently non-sensical Escher-like route. They seem to be going round in circles, picking up information at glamorous parties or in burnt down homes. They talk with a senile old lady, jaded kids, and no matter how disjointed their pursuit may seem, they accomplish what they’re after.
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, in front of a black-tie crowd. Some might have thought it unusual for such a commercial, amusing and brutally violent movie to be showcased at the Grand Theatre of the Palais. But the ability of Shane Black in taking one of the most sinister movie genres of them all – film noir – and shaking it into slapstick comedy, proved to be exceptional. The Raymond Chandler connotations weaved in the sharp dialogue, sprinkled with pulp novelists allusions, definitely did not make The Nice Guys lag behind the art house guests that waltzed on the Croisette. This goofy couple of anti-heroes utterly established the value of a Lethal Odd Couple.