Thursday 26 May 2016

Movie Review: The Nice Guys (2016)

A combination of film noir and buddy comedy, The Nice Guys has nice touches of humour and an excellent dynamic between stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Despite a high fun quotient, the film eventually veers towards a manic overload of flying bullets at the expense of more cerebral pursuits.

In Los Angeles of 1977, Jackson Healy (Crowe) is an unlicensed bruiser who intimidates aggressors away from their intended victim. Working on behalf of the elusive Amelia (Margaret Qualley), Healy tangles with incompetent private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who has been asking questions about Amelia. March's client is Mrs. Glenn, the dotty aunt of the recently deceased porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), and he has been wondering why Amelia showed up at Misty's home shortly after her death.

Healy is confronted by hit men known only as Older Guy (Keith David) and Blue Face (Beau Knapp) who are also looking for Amelia, prompting him to team up with March to try and find her. As the two men bumble through the investigation, Healy boorish and March clueless, March's 13 year old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) proves to be the most astute detective. It soon becomes apparent that everyone associated with Misty's last porn film project is in mortal danger. Amelia's mother Judith (Kim Basinger), an influential state bureaucrat, hires March and Healy to find her missing daughter before the wild assassin John Boy (Matt Bomer) gets to her.

Directed and co-written by Shane Black, The Nice Guys rides a cool 1970s vibe with a story inspired by the era: the smog choking Los Angeles, collusion among Detroit automakers, pool-side parties filled with debauchery, and the scandalous emergence of porn films into mainstream consciousness all make their way into the script. But the most powerful current running through the film is the crackling spark between Jackson Healy and Holland March, an abrasive partnership that thankfully maintains an edge and never quite descends into friendship.

The insertion of March's young daughter Holly into the middle of a mystery is a brave move. Black does not hesitate to place Holly in harm's way, whether in the company of porn stars or in the path of assassins and a hail of bullets. Thanks to a pitch-perfect performance from Angourie Rice, Holly also gives her dad and his new associate a key link to their humanity in a world gone mad. Holly wants her father to be a better detective and knows which buttons to push to try and get him there. She also wants to believe that Healy can be a better man than he is, and prods him down that path in the disarming manner that only 13 year olds can muster.

The film noir elements are more prominent in the front half of the film, as the early unexplained murder and quick descent into the sordid world of porn productions, second-rate detectives, third-rate hoodlums and a convoluted missing woman mystery evoke the best aspects of the noir style. Black unfortunately moves away from the more clever shadings and tilts towards overkill as the film progresses, and the final third features plenty of wild shoot-outs and mindless action, machine guns and mayhem replacing subtlety and refinement.

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe establish a personality-based rapport early on, and stick close to the realities of their character. Gosling allows March's occasional spark to come through but otherwise plays to perfection the disinterested, somewhat depressed and not-very-good detective happiest at the bottom of the bottle. Crowe, with his increasing heft beginning to resemble John Goodman proportions, is more animated as Healy and leads with his fists, but he also allows a latent humanity to emerge at key moments. Black hints at downbeat personal histories for both men, allowing Gosling and Crowe to build their characters on the vague wreckage of broken dreams.

The Nice Guys know how to have a good time. They may need to learn to stand each other, but they will also have plenty of groovy adventures along the way.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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