The Nice Guys (2016) Review: Action Comedy At Its Finest
Being a big movie fan, you tend to hear certain names pop up now and again. There’s the usual like Spielberg, Cameron, Kubrick, Tarantino. Those are sort of introductory level names. As you go a little deeper though, you hear names that are a little more obscure, whose work isn’t exactly mainstream, but not exactly indie either. One of those names is Shane Black, who’s known for visceral action, biting comedy, profanity, and of course, Christmas. I wasn’t aware of his work when I was younger, and I wouldn’t have been allowed to see any of it anyway, but now, at the tender age of 19, I was finally able to see a Shane Black movie. I just hoped he hadn’t lost his touch while I was growing up.
Thank Christ he didn’t. ‘The Nice Guys’ was easily my most anticipated film this year, and it far and away did not disappoint me. To get into the story, it’s very simple. It’s an old timey “Who dunnit” mystery, where a small crime ends up being connected to a larger conspiracy, and it’s up to two unqualified heroes to stop it. The heroes in this case are the titular nice guys. Jackson Healy, an unofficial but capable muscle man for hire, played by Russel Crowe, and Holland March, a licensed, but largely ineffective, private investigator, played by Ryan Gosling. Both are morally grey characters who constantly battle with their conscience. Not to be great people, but just to not be assholes.
The magic of ‘The Nice Guys’ comes from that same due of Gosling and Crowe. The dialogue they’re given itself is pretty clever, but the delivery they bring to it really brings it across. They definitely seem in tune with their characters, and that’s goes a long way when you see them interact. From the first time they meet, though working from opposing agendas, the two seem like characters that have that love/hate dynamic that is crucial to movies like this.
Gosling’s character is very much a hapless screw up. He may quite possibly be one of the most pathetic characters I’ve ever seen on film. Gosling plays him so well that you forget that it’s Ryan Gosling. By that I mean, when you think of Gosling, you think suave, charming, smooth, which is not what this feels like at all so good on him for such an effective performance. Crowe’s character on the other hand is trying his damnest to do the right thing, and is playing a nicer version of himself. The fact that his character regularly batters and breaks the bones of people in this movie shows how mean real life Russel Crowe seems.
So with a classic plot, a buddy cop-esque pairing, you might be inclined to think that ‘The Nice Guys’ doesn’t have much original to offer. While in some regards that’s true, there are moments where the movie gets up and kicks you in the face for even thinking that. It’ll offer up something that you’ve seen a dozen times before and change it so that it’s entirely new.
The best example of this is a scene where two characters who previously fought before bump into each other at a party. Having not expected to see each other, this scene would usually play out with a pair of reaction shots, some suspenseful music, and then as the music quiets, the guns start blazing. In this movie, they simple turn and pull out the guns. There’s not a moments hesitation, therefore, the drama feels real, the characters feel in danger, and the characters feel like they’re smart enough to realize that.
It should also be mentioned that the movie is very funny. The banter between the leads carries the movie, but there are a number of visual gags that are really clever. It definitely rewards you for your attention. It just feels like a well thought out movie from start to finish. Right down to the way the characters fight. Crowe fights like a guy who beats people up for a living, very calculated and choreographed. Gosling fights like a guy who ran away from bullies and is making it up as he goes along.
I really enjoyed ‘The Nice Guys’. It’s smart. Its characters are well thought out. It has an excellent balance of comedy and drama, and never lets you forget the stakes of the action. The action then, feels purposeful. Things matter, even though they’re making quips about the events that unfold left and right. It doesn’t ever feel too long, and is paced brilliantly. After the last few movies I saw, it’s good to see a definite Big Screen Watch.
Rating: Big Screen Watch