If anyone knows a thing about buddy movies, it’s Shane Black. From his work writing the script for Lethal Weapon through his direction on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, Black’s shown an amazing ability to craft sharp dialogue, toy with audience expectations, and play with genre – all while creating truly interesting main characters. With his latest film, The Nice Guys, Black creates am ambitious period piece that may just be one of the most delightful films of the year.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) beats up people for money. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) prefers to bilk his P.I. clients for more money than solve cases. The two cross paths when Jackson roughs up Holland on behalf of a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). Special circumstances, though, force Jackson and Holland to team up to find Amelia in a story that involves pornography, Detroit automakers, and the Department of Justice.
Yeah, there’s a lot going on here, and in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, The Nice Guys would have trouble not appearing convoluted. Somehow, though, Black makes this work. There’s a genuine mystery to the events of the film, and he’s able to keep audiences guessing about both the truth, and which characters to trust.
Black is helped tremendously by his two leads. Crowe is a perfectly-cast deadpan to Gosling’s more manic character, and the way the two interact makes this relationship feel intensely lived-in. They’re paired with Angourie Rice as Holly, Holland’s teenage daughter, who provides the film with a moral center. In spite of her young age (and genre clichés about women), Holly proves to be the most mature person in the film.
The Nice Guys is, without a doubt, one of the most fun movie experiences of 2016 to date. It’s layered enough, too, to ensure that repeat viewings will provide something new for viewers. It’s more than a nice film – so much more than that.