Published on May 26th, 2016 | by Ian Goodwillie0
The Nice Guys
Witness originality in a summer full of sequels and reboots with The Nice Guys, pairing the unlikely and hilarious duo, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
If you told me that a dark detective comedy set in 1977 Los Angeles starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling would work, I would have called you a liar.
Right to your lying, shrew-like face.
And then I would have had to eat those words.
The Nice Guys is easily one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years. A private investigator and a tough guy for hire team up to unravel a plot involving the Detroit auto industry, the Department of Justice, and the porn industry. And it all takes place in late 70s Los Angeles. None of this should work but somehow it does.
Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, the guy you call when the only way to solve a problem is by paying a middle-aged man to punch someone else in the face. It’s on one such mission that he meets Gosling’s Holland March, a mediocre and disreputable private investigator who can just barely stay sober long enough to get the job done. But he’s also not half bad at finding clues and solving the occasional case.
Crowe and Gosling are really good together on screen, something you may have picked up on if you happened to catch them handing out an award together at the last Oscars. Primarily, Gosling is the comedy and Crowe is the straight man he plays off of though Crowe has more than his fair share funny moments. Anjourie Rice, who plays Gosling’s daughter, also adds to the film, as a source of comedy, empathy, and a narrative push.
The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is undeniable, and is the driving force of this story. If two different actors play these roles, this whole thing falls apart.
This is easily Russell Crowe’s best performance in years. Whenever you watch his films, it can be hard to take him seriously because he takes himself too seriously in real life. In this role, he seems to let his guard down and actually pokes fun at his own reputation. Healy is constantly questioning his own place in the world as a tough guy and what value it has. The film comes before his image in this case. And pairing him with Gosling is genius. He’s one of those actors that you just never know quite expect from. In this movie, it’s ridiculousness on every conceivable level. He’s a drunken lunatic with a gun who doesn’t know the difference between Munich and eunuch.
And their partnership all starts with the death to a pornstar, then twists and turns its way through so many aspects of the era.
The waning power of Detroit.
The gas crisis.
The rising porn industry.
The elements serve as set pieces for a narrative that is unique and one heck of a period piece. Setting this in 1977 is so unbelievably important. Despite everything they’ve seen in their respective careers, there is a certain naiveté to the heroes that you couldn’t plausibly have in 2016. No, in 2016 you get Jason Bourne when confronted with any level of conspiracy. That naiveté is so important to the story yet far too easy to overlook. We have to believe that the heroes believe anything but a multi-faceted conspiracy would be remotely possible.
All of that being said, it’s not the most innovative plot. As the story unfolds and the plan reveals itself, things fall into place exactly where you’d think they should. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. The old joke when watching 70s cop/detective shows was that the most recognizable guest star was always the one who did it. And that rule holds true here. There is a certain level of familiarity in the plot elements that helps it connect with the audience. This movie stands outs in its own way, thanks to the performances of its leads.
It’s important to note that this movie isn’t a light-hearted romp, as funny as it is. Things get brutal at times when Crowe’s character is handling things his way. Gosling’s on screen daughter quickly establishes herself as his compass and Crowe’s conscience. She plays a key role in the film, keeping the boys on point when they lose their way. She also drives her drunk father around when he can’t get behind the wheel despite not even being close enough to driving age.
The Nice Guys takes some surprisingly standard plot elements and turns them into something brilliant, in no small part to the on screen chemistry of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. It has the chance to be the sleeper hit of the summer. And that’s particularly impressive when you consider how many adaptations, sequels, and reboots are floating around.
The power of something original is still highly potent and intoxicating.