Two screwed up private detectives are forced to team up to solve the disappearance of a young woman in LA in the 70s.
Shane Black, 2016
When an adult movie star dies under suspicious circumstances in the LA hills, she sets off a series of events that lead to the investigation of a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) by two unconnected private investigators. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is hired by Amelia to intimidate what she believes to be a stalker, but she instead leads him to alcoholic burn-out former cop Holland March (Ryan Gosling). The two are eventually forced to work together to find Amelia when she goes missing, leading them through flashy LA parties, the film industry, the car industry, and seedy back alleys as they try to track down the mysterious girl with friends in high and low places. Meanwhile, March struggles to find happiness and make his clever daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) proud of him.
I am a huge fan of Shane Black’s directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and the man is a talented writer and director of noir-esque action films. This film, however, like its lead characters, is cynical and unpleasant. There are a lot of weaknesses in the script – funny lines are offset by stupid dialogue, and the continuation of the film counts on our main characters carrying the idiot ball more than once in order to stumble upon the next clue. There are some genuinely funny or clever moments, but that makes the stupidity more frustrating. The plot seems piecemeal, unnecessarily confusing, and shoddy. One of Shane Black’s strength is his ability to subvert tropes, but in this film that largely leads to him foreshadowing things that never happen, which leaves you feeling like you’ve missed a step. There are some funny moments wherein the main characters discuss “kids these days”, slyly hinting that adults havealways complained about the next generation, but other themes about marriage and toxic masculinity don’t go anywhere. The film is nostalgic for a time that very few people other than Black with his love of LA would be interested in going back to – this sun-drenched 70s LA is a nasty, seedy place to live. At the same time, it’s a shinier and not entirely accurate depiction of the 70s. It looks good, because Shane Black is a capable director, but he spends far too much time patting himself on the back over his ability to recreate the city during that period.
The two leads don’t quite click together. Both of them work well with young Angourie Rice, but their relationship with each other doesn’t ever reach that level where you see them as friends or partners. Part of this is thanks to Russell Crowe seemingly sleepwalking through most of his role. He woke up occasionally to deliver a good line or punch, but most of the time he had a strangely dead-eyed stare. Ryan Gosling works much harder to make Holland March work – the character is mostly awful, but Gosling does some fun, interesting things with his performance. He has some great little tics that bring March to life – the scene where Healy and March first meet is full of great moments from Gosling. Rice runs away with the film, though. She connects brilliantly with Gosling in their difficult father-daughter relationship. Her Holly is competent, smart, and not infantalised. It’s a shame she’s the only female character in the film who’s really respected (and one of the few good actresses – Margaret Qualley is just awful as Amelia), but she carries the role capably and gets most of the best lines. In his depiction of women, Black seems to want to have his cake and eat it too – they are heavily sexualised, but the film also calls out the sexualisation of women. A disappointing mess from a director I normally enjoy.
The Nice Guys on IMDb