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The Nice Guys

November 25, 2016

The Nice Guys (2016)
Director: Shane Black
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice

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Synopsis: Two ramshackle private investigators (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) team up to solve a mysterious case of a dead porn starlet and a missing teen in ’70s LA.

Review: Shane Black proves what an absolute dab hand he is at hilarious, literate crime capers with this, a near comic masterpiece to rank alongside his cult gem from ten years’ previous, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. As with that film, The Nice Guys is a glorious homage to (and send up of) LA noir; the twist being that this time Black filters his story round a late ’70s, retro, porn-inflected, disco-inspired Los Angeles. Just the opening moments of the film set up Black’s mastery of tone and droll humour as a dolly shot picks up the nocturnal allure of LA beneath a symbolically torn and gone-to-seed “Hollywood” sign, before zoning in on the mysterious fatal crash of starlet, Misty Mountains.

An area Black excels at once again is the brilliant balance of comedy, wit and pastiche versus making the whole piece dramatically viable and almost a gentle nod to the labyrinthine lineage of LA noir dramas from yesteryear such as Chinatown and especially L.A. Confidential with the casting of Russell Crowe and even Kim Basinger (in a short, but significant, cameo role). Equally brilliant is Black’s ability to craft vibrant set pieces – from both an action and comedy perspective – and, as in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he films a glamorous tinseltown party like no other. The Sid Shattack extravaganza that forms the centrepiece of the story is an absolute comic masterclass – full of great slapstick, tremendous one-liners from Gosling and Crowe, and a truly exquisite piece of ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ surreal humour as Gosling’s naïve, gauche private eye goes swimming with mermaids on the hunt for a lead.

As in all great buddy movies, strong chemistry between the leads is essential – and it’s pure gold-dust where Gosling and Crowe are concerned. Crowe has always been an underrated comedian and here he is to the manor born with a role that suits his gruff, but warm, persona perfectly, and Gosling nails his neurotic, shambolic role expertly – not falling into the trap of trying to demonstrate the shift into louche comic mode that many other matinee idols might have done. Summating all that is good about the film is its overarching air of irreverence (as redolent in the very sardonic title “The Nice Guys”). A scene where they go to a seedy Burbank hotel only to quickly backtrack on their way up to the villain’s penthouse when paying witness to two gruesome murders is both the film’s pièce de résistance and apex of its comic charm. (November 2016)

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