Friday, 27 May 2016

The Nice Guys

(MA15+) ★★★★

Director: Shane Black.

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger.

Russell really wanted to be at home because the Rabbitohs were playing.

SOMEWHERE in between writing the script for Lethal Weapon and directing Iron Man 3, Shane Black wrote and directed a film called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Initially a flop, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang became a cult favourite because of its offbeat take on the crime noir genre and its inspired comedy pairing of a back-in-the-game Robert Downey Jr and an on-the-way-out Val Kilmer.

The Nice Guys is a very similar proposition from writer-director Black with exactly the same strengths – an offbeat take on the crime noir genre and a surprisingly effective comedy pairing of a still-hot-right-now Ryan Gosling and a probably-on-the-way-out Russell Crowe.

Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a thug who wonders whether he should become a private eye and try to do something good with his life. Gosling is Holland March, a private eye who rarely bothers to do anything good with his life, except provide for his daughter (wonderfully precocious Aussie teen Angourie Rice).

The pair’s paths cross thanks to a girl named Amelia (Qualley), whom lots of people are keen to get hold of for various nefarious reasons, as she may prove to be the key in not only a couple of murders, but maybe also a larger conspiracy.

The story’s multiple red herrings and hard-boiled antics lead around in circles that harken back to the classic noir novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and a ‘70s setting adds fresh spice to the genre, along with some outrageous costumes, cool production design and a funky soundtrack featuring the likes of Kool & The Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Black has great fun with the era, the conventions of the crime story, and in Gosling and Crowe he has a dynamic duo to deliver his delicious dialogue. There are plenty of laughs, and while no one will be suggesting Crowe focus purely on comedic roles from now on, he handles the humour well.

Both he and Gosling give great performances that help smooth out the bumps in the way their characters are written, which is one of the few prominent flaws of the film. Healy goes from being a hard man with no compunctions about killing someone to being sick at the sight of a dead body, while March’s alcoholic widower walks a weird line between smart and dumb.

The supporting cast that weaves in and out of the story is solid, but Rice is a scene-stealer. Her biggest claim to fame prior to this was the little-seen Aussie end-of-days thriller These Final Hours but you can guarantee she is a star in the making on the strength of her performance here.

Overall, The Nice Guys is a cool little neo-noir gem. The plot feels like it’s wandering, but it works (if you take into account how inept/corrupt the police in this film must be) and provides more laughs than a lot of out-and-out “comedies” being pumped out of Hollywood in recent years.

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