Most comedies these days focus more on the jokes and improv than on the actual story. Which is fine, but these aren’t really movies ,they’re just slightly edited stand-up comedy sessions. The Nice Guys avoids this trap, however, and Shane Black remembers to put an equal amount of care into the film-making, setting, and story. What’s even more surprising is that The Nice Guys also uses all of those aspects to create some of the funniest jokes in the movie. It’s a rare gift to see a comedy these days that doesn’t rely on talking skills. And like all of the best comedies, your experience with the movie will be a lot better if you don’t know much about it.
Of course, every P.I. story needs good Private Investigators in order to succeed. True, the good protagonist rule applies to every movie, but I feel like that rule is especially important for P.I. stories. So it’s no surprise that this movie’s biggest success are the two leading investigators. Not only do Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling make for a surprisingly successful comedy duo, but they also present interesting characters that are even relate-able at times. Ryan Gosling plays the role of Holland March, a private eye who always has good intentions but rarely ever does a good job of carrying them out. Russel Crowe, on the other hand, takes on the role of Jackson Healy. A man who solves most of his problems through violence or awkward silence. On the outset, these characters definitely seem like cliche stereotypes at best. A lousy private eye and a tough private detective is definitely a combination that’s been done to death.Yet, somehow these characters manage to avoid a lot of cliches. For example, Ryan Gosling takes the alcohol-addicted father cliche and takes it a step further. Most of these so-called “alcoholics” are just regular characters with an alcohol addiction slapped to their forehead, but Jackson is different. His alcohol addiction is more of a proper character flaw than a slapped-on name tag, and the film always remembers that he has an alcohol addiction and it uses that addiction to the story’s advantage. And while Russel Crowe’s character is typically a tough-guy character, Jackson actually has some subtle developments throughout the movie that you just don’t see in most tough-guy characters. Jackson had more development in two hours than Kate Beckett did in eight seasons of Castle. Both of these characters actually have impressive yet subtle character arcs, and while both of these characters do quite a bit of talking, most of their true character development is shown through their actions and their changes in behavior. And that’s how a true character arc should be represented, not through dialogue but through action.
Besides this entertaining duo, there’s plenty of other entertaining and interesting characters to keep your interest. The biggest surprise was Jackson’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). In most cases, daughter characters are just their as cheap drama or to remind the father character of how bad of a father they are. But Holly manages to avoid these cliches and be actually useful to the story, two things that I’ve rarely seen with little girl characters in movies. Her grown-up, detective-like behavior reflects the world that she lives in but it also makes for some entertaining moments as well. For once, I can actually smile when a little girl shows up in my movie. The other big supporting character in this movie is Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), a police chief that also happens to be the mother of the girl (Margaret Qually) that Holland and Jackson are looking for. I felt that putting Kim Basinger and Russel Crowe in the same movie again would just be an awkward attempt at an Easter Egg for L.A. Confidential fans, but luckily this wasn’t the case. Basinger plays a very different character and her scenes with Crowe feel more natural than you might expect. She also puts a good amount of emotion into her lines, making her more than just an attempt at representing the film’s police force. She has very little screen time, but she makes the best of it. Remember, even the smallest roles need to be handled with care. As for the other characters, well, I could go past my word limit just to talk about the other characters. Just know that each character is unique and entertaining in their own ways. When you see a new character in this movie, you never really know what your going to get. And that’s what makes even the smaller characters in this movie o-so special.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie without an actual story to bring these weirdos together. I’m not going to write a paragraph-long summary on what the movie’s about (there’s plenty of other film websites that do that already), but I am going to tell you some things to look forward to. As I mentioned earlier, this film’s story is actually a lot more engaging than most Comedy stories. There’s even a few clever plot twists in the film, some that I didn’t even see coming. It’s also important to note the setting of the film (I can’t believe I’m saying this for a comedy). The 1970’s Los Angelas setting, like all the best settings, is a character in its own right. This city is a dirty place, filled with children who are growing up too fast, teenagers who are fighting for pointless causes, and women who are constantly objectified to porn stars and crew members. It’s definitely a nice looking city with vibrant colors and clean spaces, but there’s always something darker lurking beneath the surface. Notice how most of the fighting scenes occur within households, showing that even your own home can’t be safe in this dirty crime world. The plot does get a little predictable at times, but that’s only because the rest of the story does a great job of keeping you guessing. Best part about the story is it’s subtlety: you don’t even have to really pay attention to the story in order to enjoy the film. The Nice Guys manages to be a good time and a great film for those looking for a more complex experience, how you take in the movie is entirely up to you.
Even with all of these great characters and plot elements, the filmmaking never seems to take a nose dive. The film’s cinematography makes especially good use of reveal shots, which are shots that hide the most important aspect of the scene until the very last moment. For example, the “Mermaids” scene wouldn’t have been as funny if we saw Ryan Gosling jumping into the pool first. Instead, the movie shows us a mermaid floating around in a pool, then it shows another mermaid swimming up to her, the mermaids proceed to swim away, and after a few seconds we see Holland swimming towards the mermaids. The most important part of the scene was delayed until the perfect moment, making the scene so much better. Shane Black uses this technique throughout the film, to create humor and to even build suspense at the right moments. In the wrong hands, this technique would probably get old after a while, but this technique seems to be in the right hands. These reveal shots never seem to get old and they do a great job of keeping the audience guessing. The editing of the movie also ties into this technique perfectly, adding to the film’s great comedic and surprising rhythm. A friend once told me that the best comedies keep you guessing, and by that regard, The Nice Guys is one of the best comedies of the year.
But there are some issues with the movie, despite my high praise so far. Like with all comedies, some of the jokes just fall flat. Either due to bad writing or bad timing, these few but noticeable jokes are awkward at best and groan-inducing at worst. The movie also feels a little too long, going past when it should have ended like an actor who continues to run his mouth off even after the director said “cut!”. In my opinion at least, the movie should have ended after the shootout at Holland’s house, and the Bee dream sequence could have been cut as well. So yes, the movie is a bit too much. But that’s only really noticeable because the film does a lot of other things so well, so it really shouldn’t affect your experience of the movie too much.
There are so many other things I can talk about with this film: The great dialogue, the hilarious jokes, the 70’s soundtrack etc. But I don’t want this review to turn into a sea of IGN-caliber praise, so just go out and watch the damn movie already! Although you probably should have watched the movie before reading this review. Oh well, more views this way!
+ Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling turn seemingly typical archetypes into interesting and hilarious characters
+ Every character is unique and entertaining in their own ways
+ Great reveal shots and well-timed editing
+ The setting is like an interesting character in of itself
+ Surprisingly good story with a few twists, good satire, and plenty of funny moments
+ Some of the funniest jokes of the year
- The movie is a bit too long
- Some of the jokes fall flat