The Nice Guys
Director - Shane Black
Cast - Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Kim Basinger, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley
Rating - 4/5
“Kiss kiss bang bang,” the acidic critic Pauline Kael wrote, “is perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.”
It’s no coincidence then that when Shane Black finally decided to step behind the camera, that’s what he called his first movie. Four words, technically two, spoken with the sultry hiss of a femme fatale: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And just like that underseen gem (I’m serious, you have to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Shane Black’s new movie, The Nice Guys, makes you want to catch hold of the first random stranger unfortunate enough to cross your path and demand that they drop everything and experience it.
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The year is 1977, the place: Los Angeles – that perennial damsel in distress. The music is funky, the lights buzzing with neon, and the sky filled with the haze of an inevitable future. A brute enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) comes knocking on the door of down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to break his arm. To paraphrase Casablanca, it is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, their paths destined to collide thanks to a missing heiress and a murdered porn star.
I circle back to those four eternal words because that is the essence of Shane Black. Like Ferran Adria with cuisine, Black deconstructs movies to their bare essentials. He is a fan, like us, and he understands the appeal of the dark room with the big, flickering screen, the hum of the projector, the sound of horns and smell of a coronary. Like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, he has found a way to turn what could very easily have been pulpy schlock, into pure movie magic.
With the help of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who quite honestly have the best chemistry of any buddy cop cinematic pair since the director’s own Murtaugh and Riggs from Lethal Weapon, Black effortlessly shifts tones, gleefully leaping from gumshoe homage to broad slapstick.
The Nice Guys is absolutely delightful. Not only does it play like a greatest hits album of Shane Black’s career - complete with LA neo noir goofiness, whip-smart banter, and yes, Christmas – it also features Ryan Gosling’s best work since Drive.
And since I am more than aware of how my praise for Shane Black (blame fandom) is getting borderline embarrassing now, let me shift focus to Ryan Gosling. There is no other movie - not even last year’s The Big Short - that hits home the realisation that Ryan Gosling is just as good a comedian as he is a psychopath or heartthrob than this. He is a hoot in every scene, especially those with Angourie Rice, who steals scenes as his daughter.
If this was the ‘70s, we’d probably get 5 of these movies. But it’s not. The Nice Guys, like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (one last time, please watch it) will have to make do with being a cult classic. But it’ll endure.
Note: The film has been half-heartedly butchered by the CBFC, which strangely makes it worse than if they’d actually put any effort into their soul-sucking jobs.