The Nice Guys is the latest offering from writer turned director, Shane Black. Set in Los Angeles in 1977, the picture tells the story of two mismatched private detectives: the burly leg-breaker Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and the accident prone Private Detective, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who are forced to work together on a missing persons case that snowballs into a Chinatown lite conspiracy involving a revelatory porn film and the Detroit motor industry.
Shane Black has delivered yet again. The master of snappy, buddy movie dialogue has given us one of his best films to date. It all kicks off from the thrilling opening scene where a naked lady meets her spectacular demise from a great height (It reminded me of a similar opening scene from another great buddy film, Lethal Weapon).
Jackson Healy is introduced as a likeable overweight brute, who doles out vicious beatings at the behest of paying customers. His paths cross with boozy P.I. Holland March, whom he deals a vicious beating to. After some hilarious bickering, the two men decide to work together to find a missing girl.
A hugely entertaining film from start to finish, there are several laugh out loud moments peppered throughout the film, interspersed with energetic action sequences that seamlessly segue into slapstick. The 70’s setting is rendered in all its polyester glory. The set design, costume and soundtrack are right on the money too. The opening credits set the tone for a quintessentially 1970’s period piece. Black shows great reverence for the period and everything is bright and colourful to behold. There are constant references to The Waltons and even a surreal underwater appearance from Richard Nixon. The picture embraces its zany nature, especially in the side splitting moment with a killer bee in the back of March’s car.
There are elements of the story that seem influenced by the likes of The Big Lebowski, The Long Goodbye and even Chinatown to a lesser extent. These touchstones help set the bar quite high. The missing girl device is nothing new, but the trail that the two unlikely partners investigate leads them down some very unusual avenues. Certain plot points relate to contemporary issues, like an emissions scandal at a large car manufacturer and the disconnect between adults and teenagers that Shane Black takes great joy in having a swipe at.
The chemistry between the two leads is electric. They are one of the best screen duos since Riggs and Murtaugh or Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The dialogue is terrific and crackles with energy and invention. Russell Crowe looks like he is thoroughly enjoying himself. The real star of the show though is Ryan Gosling’s accident prone, bumbling, yet savvy Private eye, Holland March. This intensely physical performance requires a lot from the actor and he delivers with aplomb. He gets beaten, knocked down, broken bones and falls off things a lot. It seems that there is very little that Mr. Gosling cannot do as he delivers the goods in genres as diverse as action, drama and comedy (Although perhaps he should just stay away from directing for a few years until the stink from Lost River dissipates).
The jokes come thick and fast, as does the action. There are so many things to enjoy about this film – from the wardrobe, to the soundtrack, to the setting – that audiences are bound to savour in this terrific film.