Film Review: The Nice Guys (MA15+) (USA, 2016)

It has been a long time coming, but it is here. It is finally here. A brand-spanking new film by renowned action-maestro Shane Black. For those who don’t know, Shane Black is responsible for writing cult-classic 80’s/90’s films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Last Action Hero and The Monster Squad. He knows his action films.

His directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, started Robert Downey Jr. to the path that got him back to stardom nd 11 years later, we have The Nice Guys; another film-noir buddy comedy set in the seedy 70’s starring talented actors, not known for their comedic chops, Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and newcomer Angourie Rice. But does this film measure to Black’s directorial debut as well as his previous ventures?

Set in 1977 of Los Angeles, Ryan Gosling stars as Holland March, an inept private detective who is on a case of finding Amelia (Margaret Qualley), a porn star whom other people are after to kill. Russell Crowe stars as Jackson Heely, a hired enforcer who essentially beats up people to send a message for money; as amusingly stated by March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). March and Heely cross paths and the two team up to find Amelia and the two are quickly swept up in a story of corruption where anyone involved ends up dead. Will they be able to solve the case before more people die, including Amelia?

Don’t be so sure. Director Shane Black is well-known for turning action movie tropes on its head, even in his Marvel superhero film entry, Iron Man 3. And that talent is back in full-bore in The Nice Guys.

In all buddy comedies, the characters contrast from each other like the straight arrow and the loose cannon in Lethal Weapon. But in The Nice Guys, the two leading characters are not that different from each other. They both have troubling pasts; they both have troubles with alcohol and they both question their contributions to society. This is a refreshing viewpoint that does not lend off to clichés that involve bonding and pure bickering due to their incredible accessibility towards each other.

Another trope that is turned on its head is the fact that the characters deliberately avoid any confrontation and it pays off to hilarious effect. A scene in an elevator involves the two characters peeking out of it and seeing a violent confrontation and they quickly decide to yield and Ryan Gosling plays his character’s hesitance brilliantly. It is the subversion of genre tropes that Shane Black does so well that it ups the entertainment value significantly.

The witty dialogue that Black comes up with is still here and there are many zingers to choose from, like a negative viewpoint on marriage to a criticism on porn that involves a meaningful plot to even lines where Gosling’s character completely misses the plot. The two leads are not really good at their jobs and there is a funny scene involving the misreading of an address that leads them on a minor goose chase.

The storytelling is pure film noir, but filtered with a Shane Black lens. The private detective, the femme fatale, the increasing amount of murders, themes of corruption, it’s all here. However, the treatment is all breezy, not too serious of itself and oozing with a seedy 1970’s atmosphere.

The soundtrack sure contributes to the seedy feel, with a great use of A Horse with No Name by America in a surreal scene and the opening credits with Papa was a Rolling Stone by The Temptations. All this said,the movie wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful without the wonderful three leads. That’s right, three.

Russell Crowe, we already know he can play tough guys with films like Gladiator and Romper Stomper, but here in The Nice Guys, he plays a wonderfully straight counterpoint to the shenanigans in the film. His spit-take must be seen to be believed.

As for Ryan Gosling, he is a consistent delight with his surprising comedic chops, whether it is physical comedy (like a scene involving an ankle gun) or line delivery (his mention of Hitler is a howler) or even just noises of guttural fear like when he discovers a corpse.

The revelation here is Angourie Rice. Already a rising talent due to her performance in the Aussie apocalyptic thriller, These Final Hours, she valiantly stands on her own alongside Crowe and Gosling. She never comes off as precocious or overly cute or intrusive. Even when she swears, it never comes off as forced or tongue-in-cheek, it comes off as genuine. Or when she wants a villainous enforcer to live, again, it never comes off as forced. It is her conviction to the role that makes her the heart of the film.

As much as I am praising the film, it does have some problems. The plot of the film is quite similar to Roman Polanski’s film-noir film Chinatown, but instead of the corruption involving water in the latter, The Nice Guys involves the air. Although the plot of The Nice Guys is interesting and well-told, it doesn’t hold up to the same scrutiny. Plus, the supporting cast aren’t really given characters to play with, just sketches of unrealized potential, like Yaya DaCosta’s Tally and Matt Bomer’s appearance as the haunting villain John Boy.

Films like this don’t come every day and with the current state of cinema drowning in overly CGI messes (Gods of Egypt), products by committee (The Angry Birds Movie), the over-saturation of comic book adaptions (too many to list) and the constant sledgehammering of remakes and reboots, The Nice Guys is a breath of fresh air that gives us new perspectives on Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, but also a new star on the rise in Angourie Rice.

Don’t ever stop making movies, Shane Black.


The Nice Guys releases in cinemas on the 26th of May.


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Harris Dang

Rotten Tomatoes-approved Film Critic. Also known as that handsome Asian guy you see in the cinema with a mask on.