“Consistently entertaining”

by Steve Pulaski

Few films can be successful mysteries on the basis of sheer intrigue alone, or successful comedies based on chemistry between the two lead actors, so the fact that Shane Black’s return-to-form-of-sorts The Nice Guys manages to be a compelling mystery, an uproariously funny comedy, and a consistently engrossing and entertaining period-specific film is something truly special.

Set in the sun-soaked atmosphere of Los Angeles in the middle of the 1970s, we are immediately introduced to enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who is known for kicking anyone’s ass, be they a thirty-year-old man dating a middle-school age girl, or an apparent narc for the mob, and a third-rate private eye named Holland March (Ryan Gosling), living alone with his young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). After an initially tumultuous meetup, the two decide to work together to solve a case of a missing woman named Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), who disappeared after appearing in a pornographic film. Also a similar case is the suicide of Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), a porn actress that’s death forms the link to a greater conspiracy involving Amelia’s mother and the Department of Justice.

There’s always something to admire in The Nice Guys and there’s always something occurring that’s entertaining, part of what makes it such an appealing film. Whether it’s the colorful and bright disposition of the cinematography thanks to Philippe Rousselot, the lively and nimble wit both writers Black and Anthony Bagarozzi bring to the screenplay, or the energy that Crowe and Gosling so effortlessly conjure together. While Crowe gives a grizzly, experienced edge to his character, who can flick the switch and become violent at literally any moment, Gosling plays the unusually goofy character — the kind that, when drunk, has a scantily clad woman pretend to shoot him so he can make exaggerated gestures before accidentally falling over the edge of a balcony into the wilderness. Then, subsequently after falling, lose his gun and find a corpse in the perfect circumstance to be framed by the opposition. What him and Crowe wind up doing to remedy the situation is even funnier.

The Nice Guys
Directed by
Shane Black
Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice
Release Date
20 May 2016
Steve’s Grade: A-

Rather than the brooding and empty archetypes Gosling has played over the last few years of his career, he finally feels as if he can be somebody in The Nice Guys, regardless of how ridiculous or occasionally incompetent he can be. The fact that Gosling can finally play a character and Crowe can unleash his energy into a performance that’s equal parts menacing and humorous continues to show the versatility both these men possess as actors.

It also helps that both Black and Bagarozzi have a wide variety of humor in The Nice Guys, allowing both actors to wander a screenplay guided by brazen comedy that involves slapstick and obvious wordplay in addition to more low-key humor that emphasizes awkwardness or perhaps subtlety. Crowe and Gosling are too smart to have to work off and capitalize off of their obvious mismatched qualities, so the beauty of The Nice Guys comes with Black’s ability to trust both performers and craft a film based on their strengths.

And finally, The Nice Guys is just a pleasant film to be in the company of for two hours. I feel like many contemporary movies about a certain place or time-period wind up overstaying their welcome or becoming too saccharine in their latter half. Here’s a film that, from start to finish, is consistently entertaining, has enough confidence in its leads that it doesn’t need to constantly remind you of how ostensibly incompatible they are with one another, and has a pleasant mix of comically obvious and subtle humor. The Nice Guys is one of the strongest comedies of the year.