REVIEW: 'The Nice Guys' is an eccentric action-comedy with a surprising sentimental streak


For those of us who watch a lot of movies and stay on top of the industry buzz, there are few things better than a movie with a trick up its sleeve. This is especially true of comedies, which have a habit of giving away too many gags in the trailer, dulling the effect of the jokes when you see the finished film.

Some comedies get around this by packing in more funny material than the movie can handle (at the expense of character development, for example). Happily, Shane Black’s new release The Nice Guys takes a different route. It works in something unexpected; not more laughs or more action, but an underlying tone of sentimentality that runs all the way through.

Black and his co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi don’t just slap together a 1970s buddy cop film; they dig into what alcohol can do to a family, what it means to have a family while working a dangerous job, and why it’s important to hang on to your humanity in a cynical world. Bet you didn’t see that coming from the wise-cracking marketing, huh?

Russell Crowe as local enforcer Jackson Healy and Margaret Qualley as activist Amelia Kuttner.
Russell Crowe as local enforcer Jackson Healy and Margaret Qualley as activist Amelia Kuttner.

Better yet, these ideas ground the characters. They give you more of a reason to care about them than the banter they exchange or the crazy situations they find themselves in (though those things are a big draw). And it’s that extra little bit of screenwriting structure that makes The Nice Guys worth watching even if you’ve already taken in the red-band trailer more than a couple of times.

The movie opens, as any good crime story must, with a mysterious death. A porn star named Misty Mountains (Black gets extra points from me if this is a deliberate Tolkien joke) dies when her sports car goes over a cliff in Los Angeles. Around the same time, a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) – who was worried about being followed – drops off the map. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is the local tough guy Amelia had hired to get the goons off her back, and his investigation leads him to Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a private investigator who had been looking into Misty’s death for her aunt.

Healy and March, as you’d expect, don’t get off to a good start. The fact that Healy breaks March’s arm (cue a lot of girlish screaming) during their first meeting doesn’t help. But their business interests align, and they decide to work together to find out what happened to Amelia and whether there’s something bigger going on than a missing party girl.

The part that makes Healy and March’s investigation so interesting turns out to be March’s young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). She shares her father’s natural talent for detective work, as well as his habit of always turning up in the wrong (or right) place. Along the way, Holly provides a running commentary on her father’s many mistakes (though alcoholism and clumsiness rank the highest) and even acts as bit of a conscience for Healy, who would otherwise kill most of the thugs that come his way. Despite being a relative newcomer, Rice handles all this dramatic responsibility very well – she goes toe-to-toe with Crowe and Gosling and may well become a rising star in the near future.

Ryan Gosling as private eye Holland March and Angourie Rice as March's daughter Holly.
Ryan Gosling as private eye Holland March and Angourie Rice as March's daughter Holly.

For their part, the leads have built up a strong chemistry. Gosling puts in some great work with his mad attempts to break down Crowe’s gruff exterior, and even though their partnership never crackled with energy in the way I hoped, I’d be willing to see a sequel just to know whether it could develop further.

While some worried that Crowe might phone in his performance, I didn’t find it to be the case. As a foil to Gosling’s antics, he doesn’t show off quite as much as his co-lead does, but there’s some depth in his scenes if you look closely. Even so, Gosling captures the most attention. His movie-star reputation might be built on intense dramas (with the occasional romantic turn like The Notebook or Crazy, Stupid, Love) but The Nice Guys proves how comfortable he is with comedy. And since the Holland March role also requires him to show genuine concern over the safety of his daughter, The Nice Guys becomes a showcase of sorts for Gosling’s versatility.

In fact, the flexibility in Gosling’s performance extends to the movie as a whole. Black’s movie is simply a flat-out fun ride, and yet one that’s also narratively satisfying and layered. It has all the trappings of a comedic buddy-cop film, including plenty of morbid humour, and isn’t afraid to show how the grittiness affects the characters. The trailers may have teased too many of the jokes, but they certainly didn’t spoil the movie’s heart.

The Nice Guys gets three and a half stars out of four.

Three and a Half Stars

What did you think of Shane Black’s latest action-comedy? Did it live up to your expectations? Was the marketing too much of a give-away? Would you like to see any sequels? Join the discussion below, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!