Director: Shane Black
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice
Spoilers Within: No
Originally posted 10th June 2016 on Letterboxd.
Part of the problem with writer’s block when it comes to reviewing anything (specifically cinema that isn’t readily available i.e. not yet on home formats) is the sustained viewing of film and TV, meaning it’s possible to misremember the positives and negatives of everything you’ve watched. This is the problem I’ve faced in the last month or so, and, since my review of The Witch nearly two months ago, I’ve had a backlog of reviews to catch up on, including Shane Black’s latest: The Nice Guys (plus a shit-load of early 2016 entries, but I’ll get to those eventually).
What doesn’t bode well for The Nice Guys‘ longevity, like, say, other Shane Black films (written or otherwise) is that in these reviewless weeks, I’ve forgotten substantial portions of the film that made me like or loathe it. Trying to review as accurately as possible is all well and good, but I will grant any slip-ups in detail as a memory lapse.
Films of this class have a lot of reliance on the central characters: had the on-screen chemistry between March (Ryan Gosling) and Healy (Crowe) failed to hit the right marks between hostility and conviviality then narrative momentum would have significantly suffered. Luckily, both leads are on fine form: Gosling rinsing the most laughs with his yuppie charms, and although Crowe elicits fewer laughs, his gloomy disposition is as equally accomplished as Gosling’s goofiness. My favourite character, however, wasn’t the two leads, but rather Angourie Rice’s Nancy-Drew-alike Holly, who gave an innocent slant to the trashy plot while managing to drive the story toward its conclusion by solving pieces of the case on more than one occasion. Her wonderful performance puts her in good stead for future roles, and although her inclusion in the forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming is currently a rumour, it’d be great to see her as co-lead in the Gwen Stacy role.
What is expectedly cracking is Black’s screenplay: it’s smart, intricate and lively all at once. The story unravels with a semi-elaborate approach, providing scant bits of information here and there to reveal chronological backstory where necessary, at the same time setting the table for the boisterous finale. He’s certainly come a long way since The Last Boy Scout. Aside from the screenplay giving each character their own moments to shine, it’s the issue of the plot that brings it down. The story is a convoluted mess of tangential hurdles that all unite in a mess of exposition, following the typical beats of the 1970s noir thrillers it pastiches: elements of foul-play, doppelgängers, and exploitation encircle the auto and porn industries without so much as a narrative through-line to grasp on to. It’s a jumble of ideas that would work well independently, but by throwing them all toward to one outcome, Black has lost some of the steam that the succinctness of the dialogue would suggest.
The Nice Guys is a solid, intermittently funny, above average film elevated by the performances and the sleazy, noirish setting, but is let down by the needlessly complex structure that it’s contemporary peers – such as Inherent Vice – have done to much better success.