Review: The Nice Guys
I must admit that I was quite skeptical about whether this movie would be any good. The idea that these two actors (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling), who are more often used in dramas, would be able to be funny enough to carry this 70s-throwback buddy comedy seemed unlikely to me. To my delight, I couldn't have been more wrong. Not only does the casting work, but the film has so many wonderful elements that make it one of the year's best. It offers a thoughtful commentary on modern morality in a changing world and does so with genuine humor that never feels like it started on paper.
At its core, this is something of a crime mystery, with our two protagonists learning the facts with the audience. Jackson Healy (played by Russell Crowe) is the "straight" half of this investigative duo. His business is beating people up to send a message for his clients. The other half, private detective Holland March (played by Ryan Gosling), provides more of the screwball elements with his drunken antics and not-so-quick thinking. Together, they form an easy bond when they join forces to track down a pornstar who has gone missing.
Because the film is a mystery, each revelation is a treat, so I won't spoil the viewing experience here. Trust me when I say the narrative is a lot more complex than I could hope to summarize here and that the fun is in seeing it unfold. It suffices to say that various characters, good and bad, pop up and complicate their job. One of the better characters is March's daughter, Holly. She provides the film with its moral compass and personifies the film's themes of the changing times and the decline of moral standards. She represents the best among us and the film warns that that purity faces a constant barrage from the forces of modernity.
There are too many characters doing too many good things to do them justice here. As far as the main players, Russell Crowe is great and his character, Jackson Healy, helps keep the film on the rails when it risks delving too deeply into hijinks. But when Holland March isn't providing hijinks, he really is the best part of the experience. He is at once attempting to protect his daughter from the underbelly of the crime world he works in, and yet foisting adulthood on her at every turn. At 13 years old, she drives him around and curses, but he makes sure to perfect her grammar like someone with more parenting to do. The more you learn about him and about their relationship, the deeper the film's themes become.
From its opening to its ending, every character is humanized. They all have a purpose. The women, the men, the children. Everyone feels like they had a story before the events of the film. With so many moving parts, it often felt like a much funnier, much more well-constructed take on what American Hustle tried to do. Shane Black's script is beautifully crafted, genuinely funny and surprisingly deep. It won't be for everyone, but those with an open mind will be thoroughly entertained.
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