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The Nice Guys - Review

The Nice Guys

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SHANE Black fans are in for a real treat with The Nice Guys, a witty but tough noir thriller that offers a greatest hits compilation of the writer-director’s best work to date, as well as something a little bit new.

It also boasts another great mis-matched buddy partnership at its heart thanks to the chemistry between leading men Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, as well as that all too rare ability to wrong-foot viewers at various points by virtue of its sheer audacity.

Set in LA in 1977, the story follows the fortunes of two men: luckless private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who has been tasked with finding a missing girl, and world-weary enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe).

The two first meet when Healy is called in to beat March up in order to throw him off the scent. But they are reluctantly forced to team up when both realise they’re being played as part of the same conspiracy involving high-level corruption within the motor industry and the government, which in turn has links to the porn industry.

The Nice Guys is as much inspired by Black’s own reverence for classic ’70s private eye movies such as Chinatown or the tough guy films of Lee Marvin or John Cassavettes, as it is the filmmaker’s own back catalogue. Hence, part of the joy of going along for the ride is seeing just when those nods occur (and we’ll nod to that later, too).

It also trades well on Black’s ability to tinker with expectation within the context of a scene, with several of the film’s best sequences capably mixing laugh-out-loud slapstick humour with bone-crunching violence, or even surreal flights of drug or alcohol induced fancy with intimate character development.

Black has long been a deft hand at such a thing but it’s great to have him back to doing what he does best, indulging his own passions, while allowing room for his performers to play and make their own mark. As such, Gosling and Crowe excel. The former provides a master-class in playing the idiot… a man more likely to scream in the face of violence or trip over his own feet than make any lasting impression.

And yet as big a screw-up as he undoubtedly has become, there’s something inherently decent about him, as evidenced in the scenes between Gosling and his daughter, played by another of the film’s standouts, Angourie Rice. If anything, the young girl provides the film with its real heart and soul, combining teenage sass with a maturity and vulnerability beyond her years. It’s a star-making turn and further evidence of Black both playing with his back catalogue (witness a similar daughter device in The Last Boy Scout) and doing something unexpected.

Crowe, for his part, is content to be more of a foil for the comedy but trades brilliantly off Gosling, while bringing complexity to his role as the muscle. There’s an inner battle going on that is nicely conveyed.

Black also serves up some notable villains, with Matt Bomer and Keith David both delivering a couple of colourful assassins, as well as a welcome return for Kim Basinger, with her presence reviving deliberate memories of another noir classic, LA Confidential.

The action is slickly handled, the soundtrack effortlessly cool and the look and style of proceedings resolutely Black (complete with a nod to Christmas).

So, if you’ve enjoyed the writer-director’s scripts for Lethal Weapon or The Long Kiss Goodnight or admired his efforts behind the camera (on either Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang or Iron Man 3), then The Nice Guys provides one of the year’s biggest presents. It’s a blast.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 116mins
UK Release Date: June 3, 2016