Sunday, 29 May 2016

Review: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys
Cert: 15 / 116 mins / Dir. Shane Black / Trailer

While I try to remain open minded about the film business (no really, I try), first impressions count for a lot in this game and Shane Black's new buddy-actioner was on an uphill climb with me from the first time I saw the poster. Everything checks-in tonally, but the title and tag-line combination The Nice Guys: They're Not That Nice indicated that this would be a film which revelled in explaining its own jokes. And it was because of this that I was also lukewarm to to the trailers when they arrived, promising a film which couldn't quite commit to the raucous comedy that was clearly taking place in the background. Yep, catch me on the wrong day and I'll be the worst audience you could want for your movie. But hey, at least I'm upfront about that.

Nevertheless, I was still going to watch The Nice Guys, of course. While I've never exactly raved about the principal cast, this was the new movie from the director of Iron Man 3, for crying out loud. Alas, I needn't have worried after all that. Black's crime-romp is a sort of garishly-lit 1970s noir which, while it's consistently funny, is a lot more deadpan than the pacing of the trailer suggests. The film opens with dual-voiceovers from both private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and private enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), narrating the similarly haphazard state of their lives and the circumstances that bring them together; the untimely death of porn-actress Misty Mountains, and disappearance of the Chief of Justice's daughter, Amelia. That the two are linked is in no doubt, how the two are linked will take the investigative pair on a trail of intrigue which goes full-circle through the criminal underworld, adult film-industry, automotive industry and law enforcement itself…

Now how much you enjoy the film will probably depend on how you're watching it. Personally I had it categorised as a comedy before we started, and the film is laugh-out-loud funny in its own alternative way. The film works as an actioner, but car-chases and fight-scenes aren't the strongest weapon in its arsenal; that would be the laughs. The screenplay's humour is by no means 'dark', but the director brings a certain bleakness to this caper which undercuts the gags, turning most of them from hearty guffaws to dry chuckles*1. While there's always plenty going on, The Nice Guys often feels like it should be more fun than it is (although I also believe it's a better film for all that). Russell Crowe makes for a reassuringly solid comic straight-man and excels when he's hitting or shooting people, but struggles with his own humorous lines in comparison to Ryan Gosling (who seems far more comfortable as Hapless Fool™ than he does in many of his dramatic roles).

While the two leads carry most of the film, an honourable mention has to go to Angourie Rice as March's daughter, Holly. Her comic timing is perfect, and acting as the mature-half in the relationship with Gosling as her inept father, easily handles the most subtle role in the film with arguably more skill than any of the grown-ups handle their more pedestrian ones. Oh, and while I'm on, what's with the soft-focus on Kim Basinger's close-ups? You'd think after hiring her, they'd at least have the common courtesy of showing her face properly. If it's an in-joke to the way that 'mature' actresses used to be treated in Hollywood, then it's out-of-keeping with the realist 1970s aesthetic; if it's meant to be cinematic politeness, then it comes off as the underhanded opposite.

Too cynical and self-aware to be a mainstream smash, but too much fun for a serious statement, I think that this movie will gain more of a cult-status than the casting and marketing would suggest. As fantastic as the end result is, The Nice Guys can never quite decide if it wants to be a black comedy or a wry, self-effacing action movie.

But even though the two strands never quite join seamlessly, it still makes a pretty good stab at them both…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It's a sort of halfway-house between L.A. Confidential and Inherent Vice, with maybe a smattering of Jackie Brown thrown in for good measure.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you like 'em big and loud.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Just about, yeah.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not quite, but damned close.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't, although we do get a boot-shot and a "I've got a bad feeling about this…"
(The film is set in 1977 yet there's not a mention of Star Wars to be seen. Well played, Mr Black. No, seriously: few writers would have been able to resist that one.)

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Let's go for the easiest route here: Ryan Gosling is due to star in the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, as is Harrison 'Solo' Ford...

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ That's not necessarily a strong 6, but it's definitely a better movie than a 5 would indicate.

*1 Although not everyone took the comedy in a contemplative, genre-defying manner. One particular patron sat two rows behind me found the film so hilarious that they started laughing when the BBFC card was displayed. I wish I was joking about that. Still, they enjoyed it very much, it's safe to say…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. Ryan Gosling was a champ in this.

    Nice review.

    - Zach