Monday, 13 June 2016

Review: The Nice Guys

Year: 2016
Director: Shane Black
Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice

Synopsis is here:

There were times in The Other Guys were I laughed so hard that I embarrassed myself. Guffawed with such force, that I almost fell off my chair. This is not hyperbole. There were witnesses. I really enjoyed myself.

This is the Shane Black that I know and dig. Free from the restraints of franchise fare like Iron Man 3(2012). Yes, The Nice Guys doesn’t fall far from the hard boiled buddy comedy tree which Black himself has tendered for so long. But it’s absurd and convoluted noir plot, pitch black comedy and engaging performances is invigorating to watch.

If Inherent Vice (2014) was the modern riff of Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), then The Other Guys is Black’s darkly comic take on the likes of L.A. Confidential (1997). Here it’s the seedy L.A. Porn underworld taking over from the grubby mitts of mainstream Hollywood. It’s a perfect setting. If not just for pornography’s wish to be considered legitimate in the 70’s, but for the dubious amount of sleaze which unfortunately came with the territory. The film’s villains do obviously hark back to the same corrupt tribe which infiltrated Chinatown (1974), yet by setting it in the era of 70’s smut, the film feels like a fictional precursor to John Holmes involvement and demise with The Wonderland Murders.

The /Film Podcast’s Jeff Cannata was quick to aim a critical eye on the film’s apparent sexism. We see women used not only as sex objects but as furniture for obnoxious sex parties as well as MacGuffins. No doubt this is nasty work, but it also sneakily highlights the disposable nature we install onto so many sex workers. Despite this, it’s no surprise that the sharpest knife of the pack is neither Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy (an updated Bud White) nor Ryan Gosling’s Holland March (a sly deconstruction of Gosling’s cool customer persona). The film’s smart cookie is March’s 13-year-old daughter; Holly (Angourie Rice), who acts as the film’s actual crime solver and the cohesive gel between both the central relationship between Healy and March and the very loose narrative. Black’s film doesn’t hold neat and tidy, inoffensive gender politics. However, Black gives his female characters a certain agency which larger films couldn’t even be bothered to define with any real clarity.

The Nice Guys isn’t particularly interested in being serious, in spite of its inherent cynicism. The film’s farcical set pieces, riotous reaction shots and playful deconstruction of its dirty detectives take the forefront over anything else. Gosling and Crowe have a great chemistry together and are both hilarious in their roles, with Gosling in particular shows a particular flair for visual comedy. The strength Black’s screenplays is often the comradery which grows between the main duo. Much like Black’s debut Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005). Here is no exception. Gosling’s scruffy loser trades off remarkably well with Crowe’s gruff, no-nonsense demeanour. These scuzzy deadbeats aren’t “Nice Guys” but it’s hard not to enjoy hanging around with them.

The films main mystery doesn’t hold up to any real scrutiny and the films plan to uncover the larger truth is beyond silly. Black keeps it together with film plays off at a great pace and seems to suggest that it’s within this inherent silliness that serious secrets may be hidden. If not, then unconventional partnerships could be effective.  Much like Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some (2016), The Nice Guys plays by its own set of rules, and does so with pulpy flair, sharp, knowing dialogue, and a dirty smile across its face. I’ll definitely see films this year which dictate their convolutions better, but I doubt I’ll have any that will make me laugh as hard as some of the “body disposal” I witness in The Nice Guys. That’s the thing, it’s a film which can make you laugh out loud at its grimness. A hard thing to do, but when executed well, it will have you pick yourself up from a dirty cinema floor.