RUSSELL Crowe and Ryan Gosling head to the 1970s for Shane Black’s black comedy The Nice Guys, an often hilarious piece that benefits from the chemistry of the two leads, as well as their aptitude for humour.
Set in Los Angeles in 1977, a car crashes through the house of a young boy, where he lays witness to the dying moments of adult film star Misty Mountains. When a young woman named Amelia, is seemingly linked to the death, the accident-prone private detective Holland Marsh (Gosling) aims to search for her, only to be prevented by self-employed, brass-knuckle-wearing enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe), who injures Marsh’s arm as a warning sign.
When Healy later avoids an attempt on his life, he realises that Marsh may be the one to work with after all so they partner up to find out what Amelia is really hiding. With Marsh’s headstrong young daughter somehow managing to assist in their work, the search for answers leads them to uncover a conspiracy in the world of the automobile and the adult film industry. With a rising body count, it appears that this initially hostile duo have their work cut out if they are to succeed unscathed.
Coming off from two enjoyable works, Crowe with The Water Diviner and Gosling with The Big Short, both men team up in a work that succeeds largely thanks to both of their performances. Crowe, in particular, shies in a rare comedic performance as the grizzled tough guy who finds himself paired with the ambitious and youthful private eye who is not entirely his equal.
In the sequence where both men meet for the first time, Healy, just simply obeying instructions for his client, proceeds to assault Marsh, and proceeds to sarcastically explain his intention to break his arm, which he fulfils. Clearly this notion of wit and sarcasm is typical of the screenplay courtesy of Black, which reminds us of his talents with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang much more than his Iron Man 3.
Gosling is also a humorous view with one scene particularly demonstrating his ability to play accident-prone without going overboard, but also providing the film with a gruesome method of doing so. As he attempts to break in to a house to search for a lead, he only ends up slicing his wrist on the glass, the situation becoming more bloody and ending up him in nearly losing his life in the process.
His reaction as he inadvertently finds a corpse by a tree is another reminder of why he is just as capable of making people snigger as he is at displaying intense acting in works such as The Place Beyond the Pines and Drive.
The sleazy side of LA is documented with a style that serves as a reminder of 1970s noirish features such as The Long Goodbye and Night Moves. In fact, looking at this film, one can’t help but thank Black for delivering a successful and likeable homage to those works, following last year’s underwhelming Inherent Vice.
It is entertaining because of the trail of breadcrumbs the film leads to. It allows the film to go from focusing on the verbal sparring that Crowe and Gosling engage in, to the physical action that both find themselves in as the plot thickens.
The sequence where both men search for leads by attending a party, which Marsh’s daughter sneaks into, is one of particular enjoyment for mixing comedy with action. It goes from both men disposing of a corpse onto an unsuspecting party below, to a brutal fight between Healy and one of the thugs he encountered earlier on, to a chase where Marsh goes after the man trying to harm his daughter and the discovered Amelia. There is a suitable pace with this work and allowing the action to arrive when the moment calls for is another area it succeeds in.
The only complaint one has with this film is why the characters preparing to shoot someone but hesitating long enough to the point they fail, or even the use of bland target shots. This plays as another example that directors need to improve upon to deny action sequences a sense of frustration.
The films’ modest performance so far at the U.S. box office suggests that it will take a lot of decision-making to approve a sequel, because even though the film does not directly suggest that is the case, it does tell us one could occur. Of course, whether this should stay as a one-off or have more stories to tell would all depend on whether Black returns, but based on this, it is win-win. If it doesn’t, at least there is the memory of this. If there is one, it would be welcoming, only though if the lead actors and director returned, not excluding a single one.
The Nice Guys is a funny, sharp, entertaining balance of comedy and action, providing a well-casted duo of gifted lead actors with enough material to make them both an onscreen delight.