Shane Black is no stranger to the crime buddy movie genre, having penned the screenplays for the Lethal Weapon films through the late eighties and early nineties. Now, as a director and co-writer alongside Anthony Bagarozzi, he returns to the field for neo-noir comedy ‘The Nice Guys’ starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. When hard-man enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) is hired to rough up private eye Holland March (Gosling), to say they get off on the wrong foot would be an understatement. However, circumstances around the mysterious death of porn star Misty Mountains force them to form an unlikely alliance. Together the mismatched pair aim to track down a missing girl linked with the investigation, leading to an action-packed and hilarious wild-goose-chase through the underbelly of 1970s Los Angeles.
With stories of this kind, the focus tends to lean towards being character-driven or plot-driven, but Black expertly balances both to create a compelling narrative fronted by two fascinating leads. Neat character development hints at dark pasts of the downtrodden duo, but doesn’t dwell on it. The film is far more concerned with moving forward than looking back, with the pace set by the clues or red herrings of their detective work. Clever scripting makes for fast-flowing dialogue that is full to the brim with throwaway quips, and the chat is broken up by superbly shot sequences that provide the bigger, laugh-out-loud moments.
Though he is primarily on the ‘straight guy’ half of the twosome, Russell Crowe shows off his comedy chops particularly in the blunt delivery of the narration he provides, bitterly stating in the opening scene that ‘marriage is just buying a house for someone you hate’. He spars well with partner in crime Ryan Gosling, who displays a surprising knack for physical humour on top of the comic timing we saw that he was capable of in The Big Short at the start of the year. From the supporting cast, Angourie Rice is by far the stand-out as Holland March’s daughter Holly, who is arguably more responsible than her father. She adds another dimension to both March and Healy, bringing out their ‘nice guy’ sides.
‘The Nice Guys’ is smart, stylish and incredibly witty, and is a nice throwback to buddy comedies of times gone by. Shane Black hones his strengths as a filmmaker by combining his established screenwriting talents with the action movie directorial skill he’s picked up from his work on Iron Man 3. You don’t have to be a detective to realise though that the film’s strongest asset is the twisted bromance screen-partnership between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, excellently proving that nice guys don’t always finish last. In the race for comedy of the year, this is a front-runner for sure.