There are a lot of big names attached to The Nice Guys. Russel Crowe (as tough guy, Jackson Healy) and Ryan Gosling (as alcoholic P.I., Holland March) are the two most obvious, but writer and director Shane Black is also someone whose work you may recognize. His first script as a writer was Lethal Weapon, you’ve probably heard of it, and he’s written and directed quite a number of major films including Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and Iron Man 3. One of Russel Crowe’s co-stars from L.A. Confidential also makes an appearance here, but I won’t ruin the surprise by saying who as their involvement in the film hasn’t been widely promoted. With so many big names, and all of those names doing a fantastic job, it’s not lightly that I say the biggest and best surprise in this movie is that everyone is shown up by a 14 year-old, Angourie Rice (as Holly March).
So far this year, we’ve seen a number of films featuring child actors, and for the most part it’s been a so-so crop with performances that have been eclipsed by the people and special effects around them. Angourie Rice, however, gives a performance by a child actor the like we haven’t seen in years. Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe do not just coast by on their performances in The Nice Guys. It would be exaggerating a bit to say they are at the top of their game here, but they are very good, showing that they can deliver the funny nearly as well as they can deliver intensity and action. Despite this, Rice steals every single scene she is in right out from under them, and she has quite a large role, appearing in nearly as many scenes as the older, male stars are. I really hope she manages to avoid the curse of child actors, because watching this film I know I have witnessed a potential multiple Oscar winning actress. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see her get a Supporting Actress nod for this part, in fact.
Rice is hardly the only actor that deserves praise for her work in The Nice Guys, however. Every single performer here from the stars to the quickest of cameos give absolutely solid performances. The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is of particular note here (and, of course, their chemistry with Rice) as their playful banter and surprising vulnerabilities are what makes the audience fall in love with these characters, though it’s the alcoholism, grit, and thoughtlessness that makes them three dimensional.
The Nice Guy‘s script is very slick, as Black’s scripts are wont to be, crammed with quotable lines and snappy dialogue, but unfortunately, the script is also the film’s one, but major, weakness. Every word is chosen wisely, and the pacing is very taut, and the writing is so well done in most every way that you can almost not notice that nearly every single major plot point in the film is brought about by sheer dumb luck. It’s possible that Black was trying to write a modern Greek play, and his giving us one deus ex machina after another was an intentional parody, but I somehow doubt it. It seems far more likely that he had a fantastic idea for a group of characters and a situation, but had no idea how to logically have them interact so he just wrote a script relying on coincidence after coincidence, and it is more than a little disappointing to reach the end of what is in every other way a top notch film and realize that the main characters really did almost nothing and the plot would have moved along no matter who had been in those roles, so long as they had just been in the same locations.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the ’70s era setting of The Nice Guys. It’s a detail that is essential to the plot, and they certainly had some fun with the styles and mores of the period, but the time period never really takes on the role of an essential “character” like in many period pieces. It is something that is handled well for the most part (I do think I spotted an anachronism here or there, but nothing too glaring), but if it weren’t for one major piece to the mystery. which I will not indulge, the story really could have been set in any number of modern time periods where the porn industry could be a major player. Though, if it was set outside the 70’s I doubt Misty Mountains would have been a character name, and that would be a shame.
If you’re looking for a very adult, in more ways than one, mystery, action, comedy flick, and I can’t think of why you wouldn’t, The Nice Guys admirably will fit the bill for you. While it does have one heck of an Achilles Heel, it just has so much energy and charm that I think even the biggest of cynics can overlook its flaw and get lost in some top notch performances and unforgettable wit.
Rating: 7.6 out of 10