The Nice Guys(2016)
Written & Directed by Shane Black
Hi, after a brief summer hiatus yours truly is making a
triumphant return at typing his crazy ramblings. What did I do in that hiatus, you may ask? Well, I was relaxing, reading a few books, doing all sorts of relaxing yard-work with an axe an other power-tools (in the process improving my tan from “translucent” into a “palish pink”), walking in nature and of course – watching a lot of movies (both new and olde) and bingeing one TV-show(“Stranger Things”).
It’s been a very interesting year in terms of new movies so far. I kinda feel that we have come upon something of a transformative year in the Huge Summer Blockbuster-type of films. Now – I have not seen nearly all of them so I can’t make any declaration of did some of them deserve their fates or not – but it seems that tides are definitely turning. I mean, a LOT of these major summer releases have just completely tanked at the box-office (“Independence Day: Resurgence”, “The BFG”, “The Legend of Tarzan”, “Ghostbusters”, “Star Trek Beyond”…even “Ice Age 5” clearly underperformed), and even some of those which actually MADE money have been of varying quality (the fact that “Batman V. Superman” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” made a lot of cash does not erase the fact that they are NOT good pictures!).
As a kinda “middle-ish year look-back”, I’m gonna give my current TOP-list of the best new movies I’ve seen this year:
- The Conjuring 2
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
(Captain America: Civil War was right up there, but to be all honest; while it was definitely the 2nd best superhero-movie of the year, it just wasn’t as good as The Winter Soldier)
Why only Top 4? Because I finally saw one movie that is going to make it a Top 5, that’s why. The one I’m talking about is of course Shane Black’s (“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”, “Iron Man 3”) new movie “The Nice Guys“, written and directed by the man himself and produced by the legendary Joel Silver (Google it up – too many titles to write up here) under his Silver Pictures banner. Silver and Black go waaaaaay back, of course, because it was really Silver who made Black such a writer superstar back in the 80’s after he bought Black’s “Lethal Weapon“-script for $250,000, which then led to even bigger paydays from “The Last Boy Scout“($1,750,000), “Last Action Hero“($1,000,000) and “The Long Kiss Goodnight“(the record-breaking $4,000,000). But – as much money he made from those projects, Black has always been very clear that every single one of those projects – even “Lethal Weapon” – went through several rewrites by other writers before/during the productions, and while SOME of his initial vision & dialogue is still there to be seen/heard, about as much (or even more) always went into the trash bin. So after “The Long Kiss Goodnight“, he kinda got burned by the Hollywood-machine and disappeared from the radar.
It was only when he got that coveted chance to do what everyone truly REALLY wants – to direct as well as write – that he made his triumphant return with the 2005 film “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (again, produced by Silver). That film was like a breath of fresh air – a pure, uncompromised Shane Black-story. And it was not only a comeback for him; it was also a comeback for Robert Downey jr., who had pretty much spent the 90’s and early 2000’s in-between drug-busts, rehab, more drug-busts and prison-terms. Naturally, as seems to be the case with all the really good movies, it flopped at the box-office. But the critics and the peers in the industry sure loved it, as did the most devoted fans. And it has had a pretty lucrative afterlife; after this movie, Downey hit the jackpot with the Marvel Studios and the “Iron Man“-series and when it was time to make a third film (after the much-maligned second film), he called out for his buddy Black to write and direct it. And the rest was history. “Iron Man 3” is currently at the 10th spot of the highest-grossing films of all time and in my books, in the Top 3 of the Marvel movies. Sure – it polarized the audiences a bit by going with some unconventional story choices. But here’s the thing I learned – especially after watching “The Nice Guys“:
In his craft, Shane Black really is ALL about unconventional story choices.
The story of “The Nice Guys” is – on the surface – pretty much a traditional Film Noir-fare:
It’s 1977 in Los Angeles. A known pornstar by the name of Misty Mountains dies in a car accident. A few days later her aunt(Lois Smith) hires a hapless private detective named Holland March(Ryan Gosling) to find Misty, because she believes she has seen Misty moving around in her apartment AFTER her reported death. And as has been shown to us earlier, March is not above investigating cases for a good payday even if he already knows the outcome (as witnessed & showed in the trailers by the case of the widower whose husband has been missing since his funeral). What we also learn is that March is a burnout as well as borderline alcoholic – following his wife’s death a few years earlier, and is desperately trying to keep the pieces of his life together as well as take care of his daughter Holly(Angourie Rice). And EVEN Holly – who is quickly shown as being the one in the family with some actual brains – labels March as “the world’s worst detective”…
Anyhoo – pretty soon March crosses paths with a muscle-for-hire/aspiring private eye/the guy with some anger-issues named Jackson Healy(Russell Crowe), who – in the case of mistaken identity – actually breaks Mach’s arm (talk about first impressions!). But never mind about who broke who’s arm – pretty soon the two discover that they are actually working the same weird case, which now has several different parties searching for the same girl, Amelia Kutner(Margaret Qualley) – who may or may not know something about the shady conditions under which Misty allegedly died: there’s a duo of enforcers called Blue Face(Beau Knapp, named after a color-pack explodes on his face after he digs through a bag of money he shouldn’t have) and Keith David(no point with character names: it’s Keith Motherfucking David and that’s all you need to know – even in the credits he’s just “The Older Guy”), as well as a highly efficient hitman named John Boy(Matt Bomer) and Amelia’s mother Judith(Kim Basinger) who works at the Department of Justice.
The plot circles into a deep maze of Detroit Auto industry, corruption, environmental activists and a McGuffin in the shape of a film-can containing an “arty” porn-film that’s actually a big protest against the industrial pollution of the atmosphere, but it’s actually not that important because the main focus of the film really is all these fucked-up characters and the crazy fucked-up situations they get pulled in(as a rough example: it’s sort of like all the Darin Morgan-written “X-Files”-episodes). From the earliest scenes it’s very evident that we are witnessing the birth of yet another legendary Shane Black buddy-team. There was Murtaugh and Riggs, Hallenbeck and Dix, Baltimore and Hennessy, Harry and Perry – and to a degree also Tony and Rhodey. Now there’s March and Healy.
But; I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the overall impression of the film first.
If “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” was still Black sort of finding his own directorial voice and “Iron Man 3” was him getting back to the big-budget filmmaking and playing with the big expensive toys, “The Nice Guys” is the first 100% pure, unlimited Shane Black-film. It is very clear that he is something of an encyclopedia of film, as well as all the classic film-cliches. And he seems pretty much hell-bent on taking a piss on all of those cliches and giving them a completely new spin, sometimes veering into total parody (his take on the old “throwing a gun to the other guy”-gag as well as a background gag of March swimming after a mermaid in a windowed pool are almost Zucker/Abrams/Zucker-territory – and then theres a bit involving falling asleep at the wheel which goes right into a “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas”-territory). I guess the proper genre-tag (if anyone cares of such labeling) of this film would be a “period detective noir parody“. Setting the film in the 70’s and all the outrageous excess and sleaziness of that period seems to have freed Black to just go completely head-on in the realm of the ridiculous.
Having a great score by John Ottman & David Buckley as well as a kick-ass selection of the groovy tunes of the 70’s also helps. He doesn’t go as far (some would claim “too far”) as some filmmakers have gone and make the film in the style of the 70’s movies (film grain, jump cuts, kung-fu zooms etc.), but instead uses the most modern filmmaking tools available and directs with such an economical confidence of frame that it’s a marvel(see what I did there?) to watch. He NEVER makes the visuals take control of the scenes – it’s all about the dialogue. And the characters.
And boy does he let those characters play. I imagine there must be hours and hours worth of ad-libs and alternate takes from this movie, as Gosling and Crowe just keep stealing moment after moment. This will go down in history as one of the great comedic double acts. Frankly, I was VERY surprised that Ryan Gosling was this good at comedy. Both verbal and physical comedy. Pretty much nothing he has done before has given any hints to the things he pulls off in this movie. To be totally honest, I’d put him up for a Golden Globe for the “Best Performance in a Comedy” right now – accept no substitutes. He embraces the complete ineptitude, clumsiness and the idiocy of his character in a way that the closest possible comparison is probably Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda“. And he has perfect counterbalances with Crowe – who I thought from the trailers was just sort of parodying his character in “LA Confidential“, but is in fact sort of playing on his much-publicized real life tough-guy persona but adding a level of warmness and cuddly-bear type likability to it (to be fair, I have always known that Crowe CAN be funny – there are behind-the-scenes bits from over the years that have shown that over and over again. But this really is the first time that persona has been put on screen properly) – and Rice, who is clearly the more capable one of the Marches and something of a spiritual successor of Danielle Harris‘ Darian in “The Last Boy Scout“. You could say that these characters are a triumvirate that makes for one pretty good detective: March’s power is Dumb Luck (and apparent indestructability), Healys is Strength and Holly’s is Intelligence. And all the other players also get their chance to shine in the movie as well; with the small exception of Kim Basinger, who doesn’t really get all that much to do – and this might be the only little tiny scratch in the movies armor. Maybe her character was just a little TOO straight-faced in opposite of these crazy guys playing against her and could have used a little bit more character quirks or something, I don’t know.
All in all, “The Nice Guys” is a hell of a lot of fun and will no doubt get a lot of rewatches and re-evaluation (is it just me, or is that opening shot from behind the graffitied-up and decaying Hollywood-sign a slight nod to “Demolition Man”- also from Joel Silver?) as the year comes to a close. I know yours truly will watch the hell out of it again. and again. After all, rewatchability is a big issue when I decide on the greatness of a movie. This one makes me want a new Shane Black-movie every year from now on – and as he’s already deep in the production on both “The Predator” and “Doc Savage“, things are looking good. And hell – let’s make some silent (or not so silent) wishes for maybe a “The Nicer Guys” somewhere down the line.