Review – The Nice Guys

There are a handful of reoccurring themes and tricks that let you know you’re watching one of writer/director Shane Black’s films. Black is a big fan of using Christmas imagery, having precocious children that act as foils for his protagonist and subverting the audience’s expectations (like having the gun actually go off on the first try during the Russian Roulette scene in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Black breaks out his well-worn bag of tricks once again for The Nice Guys, wisely taking an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the film.

Set in the late 1970s, the film centers around Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a washed up, alcoholic private detective who is trying to track down Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley). Holland, of course, is aided by his precocious daughter/foil named Holly (Angourie Rice). March’s attempts to track down Amelia are interrupted when she hires tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to rough him up and scare him off of the case.

But things turn out to be more complicated than March or Healy realize. Amelia has powerful people looking for her and people in her circle of friends, including porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), keep ending up dead. Begrudgingly, March and Healy team up to get to the bottom of things. For Healy, a guy who has had no problem beating people up for a living, this may finally be his chance to be seen as a hero in the eyes of the general public.

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Of all Shane Black’s tricks, the one The Nice Guys does the best is subverting the audience’s expectations. There are many moments – from March breaking into a building to a pot of coffee being used to incapacitate a villain – that hilariously don’t play out the way you expect them to. But, more than that, the film subverts your expectations for its genre, film noir.

While the film is structured like classic Raymond-Chandler-esque, hard-boiled detective stories, tonally it plays out like a broad action comedy. Black manages to keep the cynicism of classic noir, but there’s a playfulness to Gosling and Crowe’s interactions that makes it feel like a dark comedy. And there is a ton of over-the-top action, including shootouts and car chases. It all blends together surprisingly well – the action and comedy keep the film from feeling overly brooding or dark, while the noir elements help to ground the sillier or more outlandish moments.

Both Gosling and Crowe are unsurprisingly great in their roles, but the film’s real find is Angourie Rice as Holland’s daughter Holly. Child acting can be tricky, and the use of a wise-beyond-her-years, yet-innocent child to act as a moral compass for her father and his associate could seem clichéd or forced in the wrong hands, but Rice has great chemistry with Gosling and Crowe and she does a great job handling the emotional heft of the part. Keith David and Matt Bomer are both really fun in supporting roles and Margaret Qualley has a timeless look to her that made her captivating to watch whenever she popped up on-screen.

The actual mystery at the heart of the story isn’t terribly complicated. Once the major players are all introduced, it’s fairly easy to piece it all together. But that almost feels beside the point. The Nice Guys is much more about the journey than the destination and, while the story as a whole is a bit formulaic, the way it is told and the world it is told on make the actual plot feel secondary.

Fans of Shane Black are obviously going to love this film. But honestly, anyone who goes in with an open mind and is willing to go along for the ride will find themselves charmed by this fun, charismatic neo-noir.

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Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com

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