This, to me, is the heart of The Nice Guys: A Badassssssssssssss buddy action romp, with a slick soundtrack that rival’s Guardians of the Galaxy’s mix tape. Can you dig it?
Good, let me elaborate…
The Nice Guys has enough Baseball T’s and Bell Bottoms to seat any viewer firmly in 1977 Los Angeles. Almost every establishing shot in the film contains an iconic L.A. landmark or building. Whether it’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Post Office, or Tower Records—cropped of the modern day skyscrapers that now overshadow it. Everything down to Crowes Tornado immerses the audience in the flashy, funky, late seventies aesthetic.
Ryan Gosling plays the wide lapelled fool, Holland. He’s a drunkard detective that just can’t seem to luck out with a good case. For the most part his job entails drinking on the dime of senile retirees. He has a heart, but he also has his head up his ass. Shane Black triumphs at writing lovable cowards with delusions of grandeur, like Holland—Downey’s character in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is very much a mirror to Gosling’s Character in The Nice Guys.
Russell Crowe plays the leather jacket tough guy, Jackson Healy. He’s a bit older, and not exactly in peak shape, but that doesn’t mean he can’t keep up with any hired muscle that gets in his way. After years of being hired muscle himself, he yearns for something more. So when a few goons turn over his apartment in search of a past client of his, he decides to find her first, with the help of Holland of course. He’s a sufficient loner who’s good at keeping a cool head under violence, which is good, because Holland’s a wimp.
The two make an Abbott and Costello paring—so much so, that Gosling pays direct tribute to Costello’s performance from …Meet Frankenstein after finding a dead body. I’m not surprised that the writer/director, Black, decided to reference a universal monster picture either, considering he penned The Monster Squad. Anyhow, back to the point—Holland & Healy are ill equipped, but manage to bumble their way through the mystery without too much collateral damage. And while the nice guys certainly benefit from lucky coincidences, like the damsel in distress falling into their laps, the film’s karmic scales are kept even, because the bad guys also benefit from lucky coincidence.
Like any noir, characters ebb and flow, on and off the screen, leaving clues in their wake for the Gosling and Crowe to sort out amidst the chaos. But Black keeps it fresh by subverting the all the old sleuthing tropes that everyone knows and loves. I wont give too many away, but my personal favorite is when Gosling assumes, in classic noir fashion, that a simple note left behind by the missing girl is an elaborate code, when really it’s just simple fucking note.
The beauty of Shane Black is that his characters are absolute exposition machines, but he does it so damn well that I could listen to his characters squabble for hours. He always manages to have fast paced vaudevillian back-and-forths between his two leads that advance the plot and keep the audience involved. He has also matured when it comes to directing a multifaceted action sequence without turning it into a jumbled mess. But to be fair, he’s been doing this for years; whether its Gibson and Glover, Downey and Kilmer , or Cheadle and Downey, he’s the guy that you go to write and direct a buddy-cop movie.
Oh, and he loves the shit out of Christmas for some reason; almost all his movies take place around Christmas.