The Nice Guys is about two guys – Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a down-on-his-luck private eye in 1977 Los Angeles. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a hired enforcer who hurts people for a living. Both become unlikely partners when a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) mysteriously disappears. Both men have to deal with very dangerous people because anyone associated with Amelia for some reason ends up murdered.
I went to watch The Nice Guys with low expectations and a feeling of emptiness because the trailers did not fill me with joy. My motivation to watch this film was non-existent because the trailer provides this idea that this is a comedy action/mystery thriller film starring two lead Hollywood actors. In a moment of misery, I did not laugh once during the trailer. My predictable and justified fear came to life on the big screen because I barely laughed at the full-length feature either. I did chuckle, but I wanted to laugh uncontrollably, with the audience members joining in on cue. I have spoken to a few people about this film who found it funny all the way through so it could be that the comedy works on certain groups depending on what you find funny. Luckily for me, I enjoyed the majority of the plot regardless of the lack of laughs. The film ultimately tosses in a roughed up Russell Crowe with a nonsensical way with violence with a pinch of Ryan Gosling playing a foolish dim-witted figure but a loving father. They both end up as partners as the premise of the film, and regardless of the lack of comedy moments (although attempted) the onscreen relationship between the two works because their partnership is foolish and inappropriate, and the cooperation between the two to solve the case is strange and circus-like. The Nice Guys is essentially a buddy-cop film with ‘chucklesome’ comedy moments and whether you laugh or not it is thoroughly entertaining.
Ryan Gosling plays his character of an out-of-luck personal investigator well to a certain point. In that I mean his acting is plausible as a man with devoted love to his daughter seeking to make a way in life regardless of the many downfalls he makes. It is his jokes that did not work with me, and I am not sure if it was poor timing, bad editing, poorly written comedy sketches embedded in the script, or me. It may have been the fact that I watched this film in a relatively quiet audience. I do find that sometimes the audience you watch the film with influences your experience and blurs your opinion. It could have just been me, of course, that did not have the relationship with the comedy because some critics have applauded the comedic moments in the film. It brought a sense of confusion because his character has a good on-screen presence and you are always interested to see what he is going to do next. I have always appreciated Ryan Gosling as an actor since Drive and it is good to watch him progress as an actor. Russell Crowe’s character responds to him in a way that plays out like a comedy but I was more interested in his blunt approach to every situation. The performance that needs praising the most is the young and talented actress Angourie Rice who plays Holly. She stands out in the film by astutely playing an innocent young girl with her wits about her, and a set of smart moves that do not seem apparent during the film but come out in the most surprising moments. Her innocence plays you, as an audience member, as she is much more aware than you think. At the start, you just see her as the daughter of Holland and nothing more, but as the film merges into its second act Holly is the child that is holding the plot together. And I think that is the key to why this film works – the plot.
The plot has a serious underlying tone to it regarding the lost and mysterious woman Amelia, whom throughout the film you barely see. She is the hidden Easter Egg to the story, she is the key and the reasoning behind her disappearance is unknown throughout the majority of the film. That anticipated, cold plot keeps you interested to the end, whether you like it or not. It ties you to your seat. Amelia is frowned upon as a **** star, and everyone connected to her seems to get murdered. The police want to find her, Holland and Jackson want to find her, her mother wants to find her, and another group of people want to ruthlessly murder her. You are until the third act of the film asking why? Yet the plot does not get ridiculous, it does not get silly or out of hand and it stays true to the mystery. It gets away from not working as a comedy (at times) by providing a comprehensive film plot with a commendable foundation to the narrative set in the 70s.
The film portrays the 70s like the film American Hustle. It oozes the 70s convincingly and it glows with this type of ambience which you expected back then in Los Angeles. And because of this, like American Hustle you do not believe you are watching two Hollywood stars on set, you believe you are looking through a window to that time and you can put yourself through that window and live in it. The over the top but flamboyant fashionable clothes, the disco feel at parties, the references to Nixon, the dialling of a phone – although the film is in essence violent I found myself interested in that period of time and you can tell that director Shane Black has put the effort into making that time feel as realistic as possible. Some directors may have approached this with “I have two famous and talented actors – they will carry the film”, but he has not.
The Nice Guys could have easily been silly and all over the place with more action than dialogue. Fortunately, it does the opposite, and it draws you in, and although I did not find it overly funny some audiences may warm to the humour. I recently watched The Do-Over starring Adam Sandler, a Netflix film special regarding two leading male characters faking their own death to start a new life. The plot is ridiculous, tasteless, sexist and boring. At the start of the film, the narrative is strong and then the film gives in and they do action scene after action scene, sometimes throwing in a sexist joke or an unnecessary joke about dementia or just a plainly stupid and non-funny comedy sketch. By the end of the film, I felt empty, lost and I had momentarily given up on films, because in the end the story was unnecessary. The Nice Guys does not mirror the distasteful excuse of the film The Do-Over – it has flaws in my opinion (in regards to its comedy aspects) but it provides an underlying dark plot which gives the essence of an action thriller which keeps you interested until the very end, and it does so without making the sequences ridiculous and by staying true to what it is – a story set in the 70s regarding a mysterious missing person.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.