Movie Review : The Nice Guys (2016)
The major problem with the movie business is that it's prisoner of its own economy. Movies have to be profitable to keep the wheel turning and finance future movies, so they have to compromise all the time. It's why most movies you see in theater are never particularly fulfilling. Nobody ever had a life-altering epiphany watching a Marvel film. Mainstream entertainment that manages to avoid mediocrity is quite rare and deserves to be celebrated accordingly. Today, I want to tell you about the second-best film I've seen in 2016: Shane Black's The Nice Guys, featuring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. It's a fun and straightforward detective movie that doesn't think you're an idiot and for that reason alone it deserves your immediate viewership.
The Nice Guys is the story of mediocre private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and freelance enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) who find themselves on the opposite ends of the same case. March is hired by an elderly lady to investigate the death of famous porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), which he quickly ties-in to the disappearance of another girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). Now, Amelia is freaked out that March is on her trail and hired Healy to scare him off. The night Healy delivers his message to March, he is assaulted by two mysterious enforcers looking for Amelia. Healy goes back to March hoping they can pool resources, find Amelia and figure out what the fuck's going on. This one's not going away unless they bury it or it buries them.
A movie like The Nice Guys is what happens when you finance a director like Shane Black who's a notorious mainstream storyteller, who is not lazy and happens to still REALLY like his job. The Nice Guys has a tremendous sense of humor and loves to confront action movie clichés. For example, March and Healy are continuously confronted to their own mortality and take several decisions accordingly. Death in The Nice Guys is treated with the reverence such a ordeal deserves and the clash between that philosophy and the breakneck action scenes is often hilarious. The movie is not trying to convince you it is funny, humor stems organically from situational absurdity, cliché busting and standout performances, notably by Ryan Gosling. He's so dreamy it's easy to forget how great of an actor he is.
I need to stress this: The Nice Guys is adorably industrious. It would've been easy to take the lazy road and make another hollow 1970s throwback movie that relies on its colorful setting and every cliché in the book. Shane Black and co-screenwriter Anthony Bagarozzi (who also co-wrote the upcoming adaptation of nerd classic Death Note) delivered a compelling and original mystery, which is a rarity in itself. I've read hundreds of detective stories in my life, but two protagonist investigating the same case from opposing ends was a first to me. The porn angle isn't anything new, yet Black and Bagarozzi played it against the dying ideliasm and radicalizing politics of the seventies was as fresh and original of a take you could have to the setting. It's also setting the bar higher for future detective mysteries, something Hollywood filmmakers definitely don't do enough.
There aren't many films like The Nice Guys out there. Original, industrious, accessible and adorably brash. It's a movie that everyone in your family/friends circle will be able to appreciate and yet WILL feel incredibly satisfying to you too. This IS what mainstream entertainment should be like all the time. Unfortunately, The Nice Guys barely made its money back in theaters so unless it becomes a cult classic on VOD, the sequel it alluded to will probably never see the light of day. Point is, Shane Black is a tremendous storyteller and he keeps improving over time. I liked the Lethal Weapon series as much as the next guy, but this was definitely more subtle and sophisticated. Watch The Nice Guys by any means necessary: buy it, rent it, steal it, watch it at a friend's house. The important is to make it canonical. Movies like this need to be if you want better mainstream entertainment.