Right off the bat, here, I want to say that the marketing department gets a huge win for The Nice Guys. I’m not a fan of much of anything from the seventies. I don’t like the clothes. I don’t like the cars. I don’t like the hair. I don’t like the vernacular. I don’t like the mustaches. I like little of the music. And I even like very few of the movies. As far as decades in the twentieth century and beyond go, the seventies are just the worst in my eyes and I tend to shy away from most projects that take place during that period.
To make things worse, the last time director Shane Black made a film was Iron Man 3. It wasn’t a horrible movie but I wasn’t crazy about it and it sits comfortably as my second-to-least favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film (ahead of only Iron Man 2).
So, congrats to the marketing team behind this movie for getting me to buy a ticket. They had an uphill battle but they won me over with the genuinely funny trailers and TV spots.
And then the movie won me over with the movie. The short of it is that The Nice Guys is an uproarious concussion blast of entertainment from dawn til dusk.
The story centers on the murder of a seventies porn star. Through a plausible series of events, this murder ends up being investigated by our three primary protagonists: private detectives Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) as well as March’s precocious 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). All three leads are effortlessly human, irresistibly likable, and eternally charismatic. Their chemistry is instantaneous and the three of them gel like two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen. Brilliant casting all around.
I want to throw extra attention towards Ryan Gosling. I’ve always liked him but his performance as March is easily my favorite of his career. His comedic timing and delivery is flawless and unrelentingly effective. At times, he even reminds me of classic Tim Conway, which is a huge compliment. But he never fully crosses over into parody (so, he doesn’t go Full Conway, I suppose) and remains earnest and heartfelt with his presentation throughout the lighthearted and the more grounded moments, too. It’s impossible to not enjoy his performance.
The story is an unfolding mystery (which I like) and it all works and makes sense. It’s fun and never takes away from the film’s jovial tone, despite the seriousness of the events. At one point, I believed the story was about to take a clichéd turn but was pleased when the thread that I assumed was about to take up the rest of the film played out by the end of the scene. It never becomes transparent or predictable and it never distracts from the characters, which is where the picture truly shines.
As with most films, it isn’t perfect. One could nitpick. But why? Why suck the joy out of something so unequivocally joyful? Just to come off as holier-than-thou and supposedly smarter than the filmmakers? The flaws are tiny and harmless and not even worth discussing.
So, the fact that the movie takes place in the seventies is a total non-issue. The setting of a film (both time and place) is often just cosmetic window dressing. Whether a movie takes place in space, in an apocalyptic wasteland, in Aruba, in a phone booth, or in the seventies, it all comes down to character and story, which transcends it all.
And transcend The Nice Guys does. You did it, Shane Black! You won me back! I’ll be there for your next film and for each one after that, as long as you keep putting out movies like this one. I’m glad I didn’t allow my biases and preconceived notions keep me away from The Nice Guys. And I’m also grateful to that marketing department. Thanks for looking out for me! See you, next time!