14 June 2016

The Nice Guys review

Truth be told, if you aren't already a fan of writer/director Shane Black then The Nice Guys probably isn't going to change that. It's unmistakably his, a film noir inspired buddy movie that never veers too far from the tone and style on display in both Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and (to a lesser extent) Iron Man 3. It's cynical. It's funny. It's got a strange sense of heart. But most importantly, it's a film with instantly captivating main characters.

We follow private eye Holland March and enforcer Jackson Healy as they team up in order to find a missing girl, but (as is to be expected) The Nice Guys is more interested in it's characters than it is the plot. To describe our main duo as flawed would be an understatement - Holland is an alcoholic single father who has to be driven around by his teenage daughter; Healy is a bitter divorcee who makes a living assaulting people. Neither are what you might consider to be good people, but therein lies the brilliance of Shane Black's writing - he balances the cynicism of these characters with beats that help show us that they'd jump at the chance to do the right thing if only given the opportunity. As with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, it's not so much that our characters are bad people, it's that they've been corrupted by a bad world.

But that corruption has yet to take a hold of Holland's daughter. Holly March is effectively our third protagonist, exhibiting all of the more conventionally heroic traits that Holland and Healy don't - courage, resourcefulness, a sense of right and wrong. In a lot of ways The Nice Guys is all about the loss of innocence, and Holly is the perfect vehicle for that - she's smart enough to know how the world works but young enough to remain optimistic, and her very presence is enough to help make both her father and Healy if not good people, then at least slightly better ones. She epitomises that strange sense of heart I mentioned earlier, helping make The Nice Guys a more hopeful movie than it has any right to be - and maybe most importantly, she isn't just "the kid character". Between Holly and Iron Man 3's Harley, Shane Black has proven himself to be very good at both writing for and casting children, and I'm hoping that Angourie Rice will see the same success following this that Ty Simpkins did following Iron Man 3.

If that sounds a little heavy, don't worry - the vast majority of the film is actually focused on being nothing more than as entertaining as possible. You may not find yourself clutching at your sides with laughter all the time - it's not that kind of movie - but it's still consistently funny thanks to a dark sense of humour, some excellent physical comedy, and a couple of great performances from both Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Gosling is the more obviously funny of the two simply because he has more opportunities to be so, but Crowe is John Goodman levels of good when given the chance, which is pretty much the highest compliment I can possibly give.

And although The Nice Guys has a plot just as convoluted as the one in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, where that felt confusing and vague this is instead fairly easy to follow, doling out the required information often enough for you to keep track of what's going on. That's not to say that he's completely avoided the flaws present in his previous films - as with both Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, the middle section is a little saggy, and there are jokes that just don't land as intended - but on the whole it does feel like he's progressed as a director without losing the distinctive voice that made him so exciting to begin with.

Which makes The Nice Guys simply a damn good film, Shane Black operating at his Shane Black-iest, and as long as you're on board for that then I doubt you'll be disappointed with a film that is never anything less than consistently entertaining. In a time when Hollywood at large is relying almost exclusively on pre-existing intellectual properties, the work of a genuine auteur is both hugely refreshing and downright vital, and that is exactly what The Nice Guys offers.

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