The Nice Guys, from Co-Writer-Director Shane Black, was my most anticipated film of the summer. Does it live up to those lofty expectations or is it another Hollywood disappointment?
In 1977 Los Angeles, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a tough guy for hire. If someone has a problem they need fixed with violence, they hire Healy. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a drunken private investigator and single dad to thirteen-year-old Holly (Angourie Rice). When a person of interest in March’s latest case, Amelia (Margaret Qualley), hires Healy to get March off her back, it starts a chain reaction that leads the two men to become reluctant partners as they work to sort out the vast conspiracy surrounding Amelia’s sudden disappearance. The case will have them interact with pornographers, politicians, and paid killers—as long as they don’t kill each other first.
That’s all I want to tease of the plot, because like any great detective story, if you know too much going in, it ruins the fun. Warner Brothers did just that by revealing too much in their trailers for The Nice Guys. They don’t outright spoil the film, but they did reveal a bit too much that gave the audience insight into some of the characters that they wouldn’t have had if they had gone in cold. This didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film, but it annoyed me for sure. The film is hilariously funny and the cast has amazing chemistry together. Black, along with his Co-Writer, Anthony Bagarozzi, shows that he still has a great ear for dialogue, crafting a screenplay that feels like you’re looking in on a number of natural interactions, not actors reading lines. I also enjoyed the care and detail put into the characters of March and Healy. These are two fully-realized characters and not cardboard cutouts. The film does have similar beats to Black’s 2005 film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, of which The Nice Guys is a spiritual sequel. The film doesn’t feel like a rip off, but it’s just familiar to fans of the previous film. March and Healy are too well-developed to be mistaken for any other characters. The final twist on the plot—about how the conspiracy is supposed to be revealed to the public—is a little far-fetched, but the rest of the story is an enjoyable detective yarn that is only enhanced by the back and forth between March and Healy.
Crowe and Gosling are a fantastic on screen pair in this film. They have such a great rapport that a lot of the comedy comes not necessarily from their dialogue, but from their timing and expressions. Gosling especially is a great comedic talent. He’s shown this side of his acting in both The Big Short and Crazy Stupid Love, but it’s still not something he’s really known for. Hopefully The Nice Guys will change all that. Crowe has some great lines here too, but he’s mostly the straight man to Gosling’s buffoon. Rice’s character got to be a little too goody-goody to me at times, but it fits with the character’s role as March’s conscience. The young actress more than holds her own with Gosling and Crowe and becomes an equal partner in their adventure. The rest of the supporting cast, which I won’t spoil here, also does a fine job in bringing this world to life. They are typical noir characters—just enough of left of center to make them seem odd, but yet fitting into the detective fiction world perfectly.
While The Nice Guys didn’t completely meet my astronomical expectations, it comes very, very close to doing so. It is easily one of the best films of the year and certainly one of the funniest. It is entirely possible that it will get lost in the glut of summer films and I question the wisdom of releasing it now instead of waiting until a friendlier fall release date, but do yourself a favor and go see it.