There is a moment in Shane Black’s latest noir comedy that solidifies its brilliance. Within the first half an hour minutes of set-up and exposition, Ryan Gosling’s private investigator Holland March snoops around a bar after hours in order to get a sniff of his mark Abigail. Deciding to punch the glass of the doorframe in, March blees profusely, mumbling about the copious amount of blood spewing from his wrist, and then promptly stumbles away to get help.
The on-point execution of this scene by Gosling’s impeccable talent for comedic performance sets the tone for an enjoyable, breezy, and unfurling crime caper that is The Nice Guys.
Set in the seventies, The Nice Guys sees Russell Crowe as the straight-laced heavy Jackson Healy who punches for hire and Ryan Gosling as the aforementioned investigator March who is hired to track down a young girl named Amelia. When an old and wealthy woman confuses the girl with her porn star niece Misty Mountains, who suspiciously died the week before, the pair find themselves embroiled in a ploy that puts their very lives in danger. Which is more disconcerting when March’s rambunctious young daughter tries to help solve the mystery and also becomes the target of people trying to cover up a crime.
Director and writer Black has already mapped similar territory with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon, taking his duo crime-solving model back to the seventies and added the glitz and glam of Los Angeles. Here in The Nice Guys, he is able to balance snappy and witty humour with an unwinding crime that keeps you invested. Juxtaposing the sleazy brutality of underworld crime and the porn industry exploits with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s double act balancing against the thrills and blood spilled, allowing the film to fire on all cylinders without losing any of its energy. Black’s script is snarky and brilliantly funny whilst never losing a grimy edge or a soulful likeability. His direction is similarly tight yet with an amusing flow and lighter elements to it that keep you gleefully following until the end.
The Nice Guys works because of the centre actors leading the charge. Though the combination of Crowe and Gosling (a truly brilliant name for a detective series, by the way) may seem at weird at first but it is actual an inspired casting. The pair have electric chemistry that fuses the whole storyline together. Crowe crafts an earnest yet gruff Healy who cares somewhat about the mark he is pursuing and gaining justice for those persecuted. As he tries to solve the case, his humanity slowly comes to the surface, showcasing a more caring hitman who is frustrated with the underbelly of LA. Crowe delves out enough hits as a performer.
Opposite him is the flapping, hysterical, and more cynical PI March, played impeccably by Ryan Gosling. Though famed more for his brooding performances in Drive and Only God Forgives (and melting our hearts in The Notebook,) the actor has a panache for timing and bouncing off Crowe to deliver funny punchlines. Shrieking his slapstick alongside his slick stupidity, Gosling shapes a lot of the comedy with fluid facial expressions and hilarious reactions to that events that are quickly spiralling out of their control. Helped by Crowe’s rough nature, Gosling provides his best performance on screen yet.
Their chemistry together is unparalleled and The Nice Guys is lavished with it. All this greatness is taken whenever rowdy, nifty, and cleverly-headed daughter Holly, played by Angourie Rice, is on screen. Sneaking on to the case, she makes more step forwards in solving it than her father and Healy ever do. The smart-mouthed Holly has a talent and a massive heart that allows Rice to steal the screen time from her adult counterparts with superb acting bravado, setting up a lengthy and prolific career.
The Nice Guys is a kinetic film that delivers gags in rapid fire and yet still delivers sentiments and thrills, Shane Black returns magnificently.
The Nice Guys is available on Netflix