This movie is a treasure. It’s just fucking fun.
The Nice Guys is the work of writer/director Shane Black, and you can tell this is his movie, it has the stamps of his best work and there’s so much enthusiasm and energy in every scene. Black got his start as a screen writer with the first two Lethal Weapon movies, but he’s only directed two movies before this: Kiss Kiss Bang Bangand Iron Man 3. Needless to say The Nice Guys has much more in common with the former, although the success of Iron Man 3 almost certainly is how Black got the budget to make this movie.
Like with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Black is diving into the hardboiled detective genre; the movie has a very different feel and the characters are very different, but Black’s skill for quick dialogue and enthusiasm for over the top violence are present and very welcome. This is a movie where it never feels like anything is held back, the movie keeps being exciting because every swing the movie takes is made with such purpose and verve.
The movie opens with a scene of a young boy sneaking into his parents bedroom at night and snagging a porno magazine from under their bed. He nonchalantly starts to browse through it and eventually comes to a fold out of a particular model lying in full view. Then we see a car appear over a hill, barrel it’s way towards the house and eventually right through it; where the kid has just walked through. He wanders out to see what’s happened and finds the car now empty, but there’s a naked woman lying on the ground bruised and bloody in the same position as the centerfold, and actually happens to be that same model. She dies.
This kind of ridiculous melding of stylized sex and violence for the sake of comedy permeates the entire move. It’s an amazing ride that I really enjoyed.
Russell Crowe plays a man who wishes he were a real detective. He puts out ads for his services and mostly gets hired to beat people up. His backstory is conveyed to us through two quick flashbacks: One where his wife tells him flat out she’s been fucking his father, and another where he beats an armed robber in a diner, which is what set him on his current career path. Beating a man was the first time in his life he felt useful. The movie makes a point that he doesn’t drink but he always has that air of an alcoholic who’s currently sober.
Ryan Gosling plays a licensed private eye who mostly takes jobs from old ladies to look for people who are obviously dead. We see him take a job from an old lady who says her husband has been gone for a surprisingly long time and she hasn’t seen him at all since the funeral; Gosling sees the man’s ashes on the mantle and takes the job. Gosling’s character is a complete alcoholic, and often completely hammered. He’s both very good and his job and completely terrible from moment to moment. He has amazing luck throughout the movie that just adds to the shaggy dog quality these kind of stories always have.
The other lead is Angourie Rice playing Gosling’s teenage daughter. Gosling is a single father, and his sorry state has a lot to do with how his wife died. Rice’s character is the moral center of the movie. The movie does a good balance of making her smart but still clearly a kid. She gets mad at Gosling when she thinks he doesn’t care or is just being a bad detective, but she also quick to root for him when he does something cool. She makes herself involved and gets in trouble, but isn’t complete useless. A character like this could be a nuisance, but instead she’s an asset. When she first learns about Russel Crowe’s job she tries to hire him to beat up her friend Janet.
There are so many little touches here that could have been cut, but they’re left in simply for being funny. The plot is ridiculous and overcomplicated, and like with the best mystery stories is kind of besides the point. It’s just a way to put our heroes into ridiculous situations and to push them and give them a chance to play off each other. The movie is very funny, its violence has teeth, and its dialogue and character work are impeccable.
This is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. I highly recommend it.