Directed by Shane Black (2016)
by Sandy DeVito
Like an exhilarating breath of fresh air after a shot of good whiskey, The Nice Guys dances effortlessly through its intricate plot, putting other films that have imitated its tone and style to shame. This is owing to a damn-near-perfect cast, simply stunning throwback 70's mis-en-scene, and the gut-bustingly funny and breathtakingly clever writing and direction of the great Shane Black (he wrote Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad, and wrote/directed one of my favorite films of all time, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; he also directed Iron Man 3, arguably the greatest and most nuanced of any Marvel movie). Shane Black gives me hope that good writers can still somehow weasel through the Hollywood Machine and make their funny, beautiful, endlessly enjoyable art a reality. Cheers to you, Shane Black.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a gun-for-hire and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a bumbling private detective, thrown together through a series of mishaps involving, among other things, a dead porn star, high-profile government officials, a missing girl, and many dangerous hitmen. Crowe and Gosling make a pitch-perfect and endlessly entertaining good-cop bad-cop duo (who knew Crowe could be so disarmingly hangdog, or that Gosling had such excellent comedic timing?), and their talents are conveyed to their utter best here, but there are multiple scenes in this movie completely stolen by March's 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), positively luminescent, sharp as a tack, and fiercely brave. She lights up the screen, sneaking into her dad's trunk, stealing into a party full of porn stars, and saving her ridiculous dad constantly, not only from the Bad Dudes after him, but from his alcohol-fueled mishaps as well. I am a longtime adamant fan of Black's work, not only for his startlingly funny and whip-smart writing, but because he writes wonderful, nuanced, real women, and in this case, a real pre-teen girl with, if anything, more street smarts than either her trainwreck of a dad or tough-as-nails with a creamy center Healy. There are other great female characters in this story (vehement activist Amelia (Margaret Qualley), crafty and ruthless Tally (Yaya DaCosta), Kim Basinger's understatedly villainous Kuttner), but Holly is the true knockout. I wanted to cheer aloud for her panache and guts. Go on with your bad self, Holly.
Also of note: I laughed myself hoarse during this movie. They were long, loud, genuine laughs, as much from delighted surprise at how smart the jokes were as from genuine amusement. I also loved these characters, loved them utterly, with a genuine attachment that bordered on a kind of obsession. There are no dull moments here, and some of the best ones are just banter. This movie is flawlessly retro too - everything is wood-paneling and bell bottoms and primary colors and a haze of booze, smoke and guns. It could have been made in the 70's, it feels so authentic. It's as much a triumph of time and place as it is of exposition and characterization.
This is hands-down the best writing and some of the best performances of any movie so far this year, and, as someone who tries to write stuff sometimes, I don't know any higher praise. Go see it. This is a movie to watch and rewatch and laugh with until you've entered a cathartic state of nirvana. Skip Boogie Nights: run into The Nice Guys' arms instead. You'll be glad you did.