“The Nice Guys” hits every target with its sharp writing and terrific chemistry and characters in this unforgettable action-comedy
A Movie Review Written By Victor DeBonis
It’s quite rare to find a movie that takes so much knowledge from its genre and fills itself with a life and love that reminds you why you admire so many good movies from its own category. Buddy-cop movies, in particular, struggle with this. They’re not as common in more recent times, and, for every one or, maybe, two decent or okay movies that play in theaters, there are countless other entries in the same genre that are either obnoxious or predictable from start to finish. So, it gives me great pride to recognize that director Shane Black’s glorious 2016 action-comedy, “The Nice Guys” takes a familiar premise and fuels it with a cockiness and delirious joy that made me think about it a little more after I’d just finished viewing it. It made me shake my head with envy at its own confidence from its hilarious lines and the talented actors delivering them and how much they appeared to love doing their scenes together.
All of what you expect to find from the genre, including the smug, hardened detectives, intense shootouts and fights, fascinating clues, and such are here in spades. Yet, thanks to Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi’s excellent script, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s wonderful team-up with each other, and the perfect blend of its own mystery and comedy, “The Nice Guys” delivers something that practically knocks you over from how energized and alive it is from start to finish. By the time that the credits rolled, I found my eyes still glued to them, grinning with glee that I was able to witness something from an all-too-familiar genre, yet, much like another modern buddy-cop classic, “Hot Fuzz” also reminded me of the drive and delightfully wild joy that can come from it when done absolutely right.
As the two main leads of the movie, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling easily provide some of the best performances of their careers, perfectly playing two detectives who are smart enough in their own ways but are also rather dumb and vastly flawed in other ways. Crowe is someone who has a fierce loyalty to what he does and is the ideal, formidable fellow that one would reach out to intimidate a crooked thug for information or enforcement. However, he also possesses poor people skills, and he has a bitter viewpoint in terms of wanting to connect with others. Gosling has a talent for picking up overlooked details and using his street-smart skills to get him in and out of situations. Yet, his alcoholic tendencies and clumsiness prevents him from being a great investigator and repeatedly lands him in hot water. Both of these guys are heavily flawed as depicted through their unique backstories and personalities, and yet, their combined charm and unceasingly stubborn determination makes them fascinating to follow.
From the moment that these individual characters deliver their monologues about themselves and their philosophies about their work in an almost noir-style fashion, you instantly get a sense of what these characters are like because they’re so well-written. You literally see these two in an elevator together, and you get an instant idea of what they’re like, individually, based on how they react. Furthermore, you admire them so much that you’re even more eager to see how the situation is going to be when they work with each other. And, this film doesn’t disappoint. Gosling and Crowe’s chemistry with each other is nothing short of incredible. They finish each other’s thoughts aloud perfectly as they help the other put an additional piece to the puzzle together. One character’s subtle yet apparent expressions of frustration to the other doing something moronic fills me with humor every time. Their different reactions to a moment of violence or a new discovery both represents why it’s so important for them to work together on this case but, at the same time, forces you to ask how they’re still teamed up with their own flaws and differences clashing against each other’s. And, the right amount of fierce heat and tight collaboration between the two of them makes for great comedy and some interesting conversations from the two of them.
Too often, you hear the phrase, “These two cops might pull off this case if they can keep from killing each other,” used to advertise a buddy-cop movie. And, even more often, the phrase unfortunately causes too many entries from the genre, such as the absolutely dreadful movie, “CHIPS” and “The Other Guys” (Many enjoyed this Will Ferrell vehicle, but, similar to many films with him, I did not.), to run with that concept too far for too long, resulting in some annoying, or, at best, predictable interactions and humor. Quite frankly, it’s a cliché that wears me out more every time that I witness it. In “The Nice Guys,” however, the two main leads do wear on each other’s nerves, but they both possess such a different style in how they approach each other and try to add to the other’s attempts in solving the case that it felt new in its own way and engaged me with every next step in their case. Their chemistry is right up there with that of, say, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover from the “Lethal Weapon” movies (Black was a writer for the first two movies, by the way.), and I could watch Gosling and Crowe banter and work on tackling an investigation for hours because their dynamic is just hilarious and so awesome to witness.
The other actors are great as well. Keith David plays a smooth-talking felon who is so menacing and confident with ease. Kim Basinger, who I haven’t seen in a while, returns her, portraying a political figure who delivers all of his line in such a straightforward fashion with such bluntness that you don’t have trouble believing how much her character believes in what she does, even when you disagree with some of what she says. And, I don’t think that I’d be doing my duty in discussing Angourie Rice playing Gosling’s daughter. She is absolutely wonderful in the role. It helps that her daughter doesn’t fall into the trap of so many normally underwritten young daughters of being sentenced to simply spewing catch-phrases and acting in an over-the-top angsty fashion. Rice’s character actually contributes quite a bit to Crowe and Gosling’s investigation, trying to track down witnesses and help put pieces together that are laid out. She can be a little self-centered, but, on top of showing emotional honesty, she possesses a believable maturity and collected, intelligent way of responding to dangerous situations that I loved. Near the middle of the film, there’s a dramatic scene involving her and Russell Crowe. It tries to help you understand her situation a little more, and, while part of me is still trying to figure out how to feel about all of it, it’s still a well-written scene that makes me realize how strong and unique the connection is with Rice, Crowe, and Gosling. Similar to the characters from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and those from the animated show, “Cowboy Bebop,” there is a real heart and vulnerability to all three of these flawed yet lovable characters, even if they’re vastly reluctant in showing it.
The soundtrack to this film is excellent, too. Given that this movie takes place in the 1970’s, composers John Ottman and David Buckley took much inspiration from several cop shows from this time period, including “S.W.A.T” and “The Streets of San Francisco.” As a result, they crafted a score that not only sounds smooth, calm, and hip, but also sounds like the type of music that one would hear playing in the background from a movie or show from this decade. Additionally, several awesome tunes from groups popular from this decade, including Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind, and Fire, play in the background to great effect, leaving me with songs that I wanted to re-listen to as I finished watching this film. It reminded me a bit of one of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies that also occurs in the 70’s in this regard in how much I loved that it could make me both fascinated and eager to listen to so much music from a decade that I don’t normally follow that much or don’t know too much about.
This movie sounded and felt like a movie that was made in the 1970’s, right down to the “WB” logo at the beginning that is yanked directly from a late 1970’s movie from around this time, and I loved it even more for capturing that feeling. Shane Black’s exceptional direction helps, too, creating a darkly humorous vibe that is sharply crafted and blends well with the action going on (which is par for the course, given his filmography). Black directed the 2005 dark-comedy “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” with a similar vibe and wrote several cop action-comedies from the past, including the first couple of “Lethal Weapon” films and the sadly overlooked 1991 film, “The Last Boy Scout,” and he once more brings that signature snark and recognition to why he’s so great at doing this type of movie. His voice creates something large, unique, and exciting with this film and fills something from a genre that he obviously has great knowledge and love for what makes it work. It also helps that “The Nice Guys” doesn’t shout aloud its own time period but instead calmly illustrates its presence through details, such as the gently subdued colors of the houses, the furniture, and the ever-firm presence of polyester suits in every direction. Production designer Richard Bridgland did a bunch of homework to make this movie feel as authentic to the time period as possible, and he deserves a bunch of credit for his work here. Action scenes in this movie are wonderfully handled, showing off some intense shootouts and well-choreographed fights that demonstrate some real-looking and sounding punches. We get a good sense of both Gosling’s dogged determination and hilarious way of often slipping up and Crowe’s menacing way of handling his adversaries through plenty of this great action, and it reminds me of what great scenes and fights these types of movies are capable of.
Perhaps, one of this movie’s biggest strengths comes from Black and Bagarozzi’s aforementioned script. The screenplay of this movie puts together a marvelous, well-paced mystery, leaving me engaged with every comedic interaction and additional clue and never once making me feel bored or wondering what the time was. There are so many hilarious lines and snarky responses in conversations that I still chuckle hard at. I still chuckle hard at grumpy Crowe grumbling near the beginning something along the lines of, “Love! Grand, ain’t it? Marriage is paying mortgage for someone that you hate. Remember that…” There’s plenty of well-written dark humor and great conversations that reveals a bunch of character, while still balancing out between these two characters’ subtle frustration at a scenario (or each other) and slowly piecing together a complex yet thoroughly engaging mystery.
There’s no other way for me to put this. “The Nice Guys” is the buddy-cop movie that I’ve been waiting for in the past 5 to 10 years. It’s easily one of the best movies of its genre, if not THE best, that I’ve seen in the past decade or so (It’s right up there with “Hot Fuzz” for me, in fact), and it is a monumental shame that this movie didn’t get as much recognition when it came out and still doesn’t amidst so many remakes and superhero movies. The relationship between Gosling and Crowe is incredibly done, the actors themselves bring their A-material in every shot, and the writing is so sharp and confident without feeling as though it’s trying to show off. Every beat, comedic or subtle, feels natural, and it is the type of film that every movie lover needs to look into if they haven’t already done so.