When it comes to creating mismatched buddy cop characters, everything we see today owes a debt to Shane Black. Many buddy cop movies came before Lethal Weapon, but Black’s sassy writing reinvigorated the genre, and he briefly became the highest paid writer in Hollywood. The script for his latest directorial effort (The Nice Guys) sat in a draw for years, but after the massive success of Iron Man 3, Black had a free pass to get his passion project off the ground.
It’s 1977 Los Angles, down on his luck Private Eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is forced to join forces with brutish enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to find a missing girl, catch a porn star’s killer all while they bicker like children. The Nice Guys is Shane Black 101, and I say this as high praise, a lesser filmmaker would have turned in a cliched period noir, but Black plays with the formula just enough to reinvigorate them.
In all honesty, I was not a fully paid up member of the Ryan Gosling fan club, sure he has washboard abs and looks good in a suit yet I’d not seen this great actor that everybody else was praising. While I’m not filling out an application form for his monthly newsletter, Gosling is hilarious as Holland and taps previously unseen comedic chops in the slapstick department. The scene early on when Healy breaks his arm, the high-pitched scream that Gosling produces nearly caused me to crack a rib. After so many supposed ‘cool’ roles for Gosling, it is refreshing to see him unafraid to play the fool and he does it with so much heart you can’t help and warm to him.
What I have always loved about Shane Black work as a writer is his ability to put subtle spins on the conventions of the genre. The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has seldom been more applicable and Black isn’t seeking to reinvent the wheel, he just wants to keep it on the road. For example, you know those scenes in action movies when the good guy throws a bad guy off a ledge, platform or through a window and there just so happens to be a swimming pool below? Well, Black serves up a grim spin on that concept just for the hell of it.
After too many intense roles to count, Russell Crowe embraces his lighter side (sort of) and is at his most charismatic in years. Ignore that previous comment as I think Healy might just be the most charismatic role of his whole career. Imagine his character Bud from L.A Confidential only with the ability to crack a joke while he breaks a few ribs. There’s a nice nod to Curtis Hansen’s film with a brief cameo from Kim Basinger as a less than honest government official.
In short, The Nice Guys is a darkly funny buddy movie set against the neon-bathed backdrop of 70s L.A with Crowe and Gosling on blistering form. The plot might be somewhat run of the mill, but it just doesn’t matter when the end results are so entertaining. If you’re already familiar with Black’s work, then you won’t find too many surprises in The Nice Guys, but when something works so well, why change it.
The Nice Guys is in cinemas now; please make the effort to see it.