The Nice Guys was one of those rare cinematic experiences for me where I went in to it having absolutely no knowledge of the picture beyond the look of the poster. Not a trailer was seen, not an interview was watched, not a review was read before I sat down to watch it. With only the fact that Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling were the film’s stars in my mind, would I be regarding the movie as a pleasant surprise or an unrewarding shot in the dark?
I am pleased to report that The Nice Guys falls very much in to the category of the former. Set in the extravagant party world of the seedy 70s, the film stars the aforementioned Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as Jack Healey and Holland March, a hired enforcer and a private detective whose lives become intertwined then the case of a missing girl causes their paths to cross. Part buddy movie, part comedy, part action flick, The Nice Guys could have fallen foul of so many boring, overdone tropes, but fortunately its combination of off-beat humour and vibrant performances make it an absolute pleasure to watch. Whilst the minute details of the case that the narrative revolves around are at times rather inconsequential and cog-like, the joy of the picture is found in the chemistry between the cast and the interesting additions to the genre that provide a more interesting dynamic, namely the inclusion among the main characters of March’s teen daughter Holly (played by Angourie Rice), a smart young girl who proves to be pivotal in the final third and whose youthfully presence in a very R Rated setting make for an unusual and enjoyable tone. The movie does not apologise for its slap stick nature and at times crass humour, and though these are styles that normally turn me off, there was something about the universe created screen that made all the filmmaking choices feel appropriate and valid. The best way I can think to surmise The Nice Guys is that it is a masterclass in a seemingly appearing ‘dumb’ movie actually being rather clever in its construction and execution, resulting in something that could easily have been plain silly instead being refreshingly irreverent and engaging. For the most part, the film is hugely entertaining romp that takes you from one action and comedy filled set piece to the other, and though the plot feels almost forced in its attempts to wrap up the plot in the final third, the true joy of the picture is not in the detail of the narrative bit more in how fun it is to spend time in the company of the characters on display. Another great element is the way in which the atmosphere of the seedier side of the 1970s is captured on screen, from fantastic period costuming to scenes set amidst the drug fuelled decadent Hollywood style parties where no rules seemed to apply.The universe that is created is one that you might not necessarily want to spend time in, but certainly one that you would love to spy on from afar, and that is exactly what the picture provides.
The real success of the film lies in the ability of its core cast to both create chemistry with one another and embrace the quirky overall tone of the piece, with Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Angourie Rice combining to produce a really enjoyable and dynamic trio. Crowe as Jack Healey plays a great anti-hero, the kind of guy who has a moral compass but has no problem ignoring it when he needs to. To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to Russell Crowe since the early 2000s, but his engaging screen presence is still strong and he plays a fitting ‘straight man’ to Ryan Gosling’s more outlandish Holland March. At this point, it feels as though Gosling and Ryan Reynolds are merging in to one in their tendency to pick off-beat comedic roles that allow them to showcase a more irreverent and eccentric talent, and as March, Gosling manages to steal pretty much every scene in which he appears, either through great slap stick moments or more subtle dialogue based humour that is expertly delivered. Adding a refreshing twist to the buddy movie is Angourie Rice as March’s daughter Holly, who succeeds in playing a character wise and savvy beyond her years without falling in to the trap of giving an annoyingly over-polished or arrogant child actor performance. Together, the trio all bring something different to the group dynamic and the film benefits hugely from being able to draw focus to three different types of personalities throughout the narrative.
Overall, it feels very much like The Nice Guys is going to end up being one of the biggest ‘secret’ hits of the year, loved by those who see it but unfortunately not seen by as many as it deserves. With a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 91%, I am clearly not the only person who believes this. Get out out see it while you still can, but if not, make sure to have it in your Netflix queue as soon as it becomes available.