When muscle for hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and private detective/dick Ryan Gosling are brought together by mutual missing persons, they stumble into an unfolding conspiracy that spans the sleazy depths of the porn industry and the heights of L.A city hall. In other words, this sordid 1970’s fast-talking detective noir is the perfect sandbox for filmmaker Shane Black.
The Nice Guys is Black acquiring a skill that is usually reserved for the Coen Brothers. It’s a space for characters that you enjoy watching, hang out and interact in for a couple of hours. The Nice Guys imitates the flow of its characters. While there’s ultimately an unfolding conspiracy that March and Healy are working on, there’s no accelerating momentum from one clue to the next leading into the climax of the film. March is a know-it-all. He seems to be ahead while Healy, like the audience, is playing catch up on connecting the dots of this entangled web of porn stars, street urchin’s that are intent on flashing you their junk and sub-standard henchman.
Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy is possibly the only actual ‘Nice Guy’ in the film. Brutal, yes. Slow, also yes. Healy’s dragged into this whirlpool and he’s intent is to disrupt those to the patterns. Crowe plays Healy with sweetness, an intent to do good but a penchant for violence that he’s constantly attempting to elevate himself from. He’s a great gravelly straight-man to Gosling’s high strung Holland.
Ryan Gosling’s Holland is a fast talking, on edge, manipulative, high functioning alcoholic. And it’s incredibly difficult not to still find him endearing faced with the plain stupidity of his inebriated actions. Gosling’s monosyllabic menace is muscle we’ve seen flexed beautifully in Drive, Only God Forgives etc. It’s great to see him try out acting cool and releasing his inner George Constanza. Young Australian Angourie Rice’s Holly March is the best character in the film. After an incredible turn in These Final Hours she’s a little older, and of the ilk of Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit. Holly is the demonstration of Holland’s potential as a parent. Smart, wily, perceptive; she’s got all the qualities that you assume are submerged beneath the revolving case of liquor, sloshing through his digestive system. She stand toe-to-toe with two towering talents like it ‘aint no thing.’
The Nice Guys funnily enough ends up featuring villains whose function in the story is inconsequential. Despite the blood-letting of Matt Bomer’s John Boy, the sadistic streak of Beau Knapp’s Blueface and Keith David’s rough and tumble, smooth voiced enforcer a.k.a ‘Older Guy’; the bad deeds of the main characters are the demons that require slaying before the baddies are addressed.
Black’s 70s in The Nice Guys is set where B movies and porn actors go to the same parties. In the wake of the masterpiece of Inherent Vice, that renders the 70s with such psychedelic clarity, with a dullard like Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) stumbling through the conspiratorial entanglement along the way; The Nice Guys didn’t cause me to freak out.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Russell Crowe , Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Murielle Telio, Kim Basinger
Russell Crowe … Jackson Healy
Ryan Gosling … Holland March
Angourie Rice … Holly March
Matt Bomer … John Boy
Margaret Qualley … Amelia Kuttner
Yaya DaCosta … Tally
Keith David … Older Guy
Beau Knapp … Blueface
Murielle Telio … Misty Mountains
Kim Basinger … Judith Kuttner