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Review: The Nice Guys – “A great way to spend two hours”

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the nice guys gosling crowe

Shane Black’s gift, first and foremost, is as a writer, and in his latest cinematic venture it really shows. His irreverent wit, intelligence and ingenuity burns through the screen in a way it hasn’t really done so since his directorial debut ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang!’ (2005) which starred Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer and perhaps most importantly Michelle Monaghan as the rarest of rarities in a testosterone fuelled world of crime, sex and violence — a three dimensional female character (who actually gets to speak besides looking pretty) as Harry Lockhart’s (Downey Jr.) childhood sweetheart Harmony Lane. Like the equally zany and intoxicating chemistry between Downey Jr’s Lockhart and Val Kilmer’s Private Investigator “Gay” Perry Van Shrike (not at all as homophobic as it sounds) in that film, the chemistry between Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy and Ryan Gosling as Holland March in ‘The Nice Guys’ (2016) is palpable. Not in a homoerotic way a la’ ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (Ang Lee’s superb 2005 drama), you know, like when someone sees a movie and says ‘Gee, those co-stars had real chemistry. They must have gotten to know each other during the making of that fine motion picture in the Biblical sense.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that to quote Seinfeld. All that aside, what I’m saying is this — Gosling and Crowe are a delight to watch.

The story is set in Los Angeles “City of Angels” in 1977. The opening is straight forward enough. A young adolescent boy at war with the raging hormones of puberty creeps into his parents bedroom in the middle of the night whilst they sleep and steals a nudie mag from his father’s secret porn stash under the matrimonial bed. He then enjoys himself a nice refreshing glass of milk whilst pleasantly admiring the centrefold of a famous pornographic actress operating under the stage name of Misty Mountains. Next thing he knows, a speeding car vaults off the once quiet street outside and angrily crashes its way through his home as easily as shredding cardboard before coming to a noisy rest in his back garden with who of all people as its injured victim laying naked atop the burning wreckage – Misty Mountains. What follows is a very bizarre and highly entertaining investigation into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, rife with corruption. It centres on a conspiracy that involves the Department of Justice, pornography and the auto industry and Crowe and Gosling are the schmuks trying to make sense of it all. It’s all set against a backdrop that is a cross between Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997) and ‘Inherent Vice’ (2014) as well as a lot of pictures by Robert Altman.

The story is populated with vivid characters, each their own entity and separate study of personhood. The two biggest scene stealers are thirty eight year old Matt Bomer and fourteen year old Angourie Rice. Bomer plays a hitman and is truly mesmerizing to watch. From the second he appears on screen he commands our full attention, his prescence, his inner life as an actor is astonishing, he has charisma and magic move dust in spades. The way he moves, the manner in which he holds himself and delivers his lines is effortlessly effective, sheer masterful perfection to behold. I am running out of adverbs trying to express just how good he is – perhaps there are no words sufficient to express the luminosity of his star power. My poorly constructed words seem to me embarrassingly redundant in their futile efforts to surmise the depths of this actor. He will no doubt be flooded with offers after this film and build a filmography that speaks for itself. The other scene stealer is, as I mentioned, Angourie Rice. She plays Holly March, the daughter of Ryan Gosling’s character Holland March, and possesses wisdom beyond her years. She is consistently leaps and bounds ahead of her hapless father, often making vital discoveries for them in aid of their investigation.

That said, Shane Black wisely moulds delicate and subtle moments throughout to remind us that she is but a young girl of fourteen who, despite her brilliance, maturity and growing independence, is still very much in need of her father’s love and protection, no matter how hopeless he may sometimes seem. “The problem I [Shane Black] see in a lot of films these days is the assumption you can only have one tone in a movie. Either it’s somber and tough or it’s light and funny. ‘Nice Guys’ has darkness in it and parts that are kind of odd, but there are also parts where it’s heartfelt and soulful. You can switch back and forth.” When Rice and Bomer share a hypnotic scene late in the picture their pregnant pauses and exchanged expressions of secret knowing may as well be them both saying via the medium of telekinesis, “we are f***ing owning this movie and we’re not even the lead characters.”

This is not to say that Gosling and Crowe are without merit. It’s simply tremendously exciting discovering new talent. Indeed, many of the funniest scenes stem from the ineptitude of their characters when dealing with the chaos of the situations they consistently find themselves in. Nixon is the source of an ingenious metaphysical joke that finds its expertly set up payoff in the films final act. The film is endlessly quotable, “I had to question the Mermaids,” the comedy functions in the most stupendous of fashions and on every level, physically, verbally, visually – it’s a great way to spend two hours.

4-out-of-5

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