You know what’s a good movie? Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I generally like all of the films that Shane Black has had a hand in, but that movie was a revelation when I saw it. It’s no secret if you read my ramblings on this site, but I really love noir. It’s one of my favorite genres in basically every medium. And while I of course love the more straight-forward noir stories, like Raymond Chandler books, or basically any movie that Humphrey Bogart has been in, but I have a serious soft-spot for noirs that don’t take themselves so seriously. One of my favorite films of all time is the Big Lebowski, mostly because it’s hilarious little parody of the noir genre. We basically follow the Dude through a traditionally nonsensical plot while he’s just baffled at everything that he comes across. It’s something I love. And Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a very similar film with the wonderful Robert Downey Jr just wandering out, struggling to understand all the insane things that are happening around him. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an incredible movie, and one that I’ve become deeply in love with, so of course I was absolutely stoked to hear about good old Shane Black making another crazy movie about detectives trying to survive in a crazy noir plot. So I went to check out the Nice Guys, and now I’m here to say that this movie is spectacular, and seemingly custom-made for me.
The film is set in the late 70s, in Los Angeles, and follows two men, Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling). Healy is basically just a heavy for hire. People can call him up, pay him some money, and he’ll beat the shit out of whoever you want. March on the other hand is a single-dad private detective, struggling to make ends meet while raising his middle-school age daughter Holly. The two men’s lives intersect when Healy is hired by a young woman named Amelia to beat up March since he’s been stalking her. But it turns out that’s not exactly accurate, because March has actually been trying to find her because she may have information in a missing pornstar named Misty Mountains that he’s been hired to find. And wouldn’t you know it, after Healy finishes beating up March, he’s attacked by some mysterious gangster guys who want information about Amelia. Healy is able to take the two men down and crashes Holly’s birthday party in order to talk with March. The two form a tentative alliance while they work together to find Amelia, all while the precocious Holly is doing her best to pull a Nancy Drew and join in on all the detective work.
The two men begin to have a begrudging friendship as they continue to investigate the case, bringing them all around Los Angeles, in true noir fashion. They deal with liberal college students protesting the smog in the city, find out about Amelia’s boyfriend making some sort of political porno film with the two of them in it, which gets them involved with the major porn industry in Los Angeles, bringing them to a lavish house-party where they, and Holly, do their best to try to get some information. Unfortunately they’re not that good at that, and just find a dead body, more questions, and some guys ready to fight. Holly on the other hand is having a lot of luck, and ends up coming across Amelia. But, in true noir fashion, things just keep getting more and more complicated, until we get corrupt Justice Department members involved, a protest against the auto-industry with evidence linking them to environmental disasters, more dead bodies, an assassin attacking March’s house to shut them up, and a lot of explosions. And in the end of the day, just like March cynically says in the beginning, not much gets accomplished. They made some money, they ran around like idiots for a few days, their lives were threatened, and the sun went up, and the sun went down. But hey, at least now they’re friends, and are going to open up a new detective agency, as partners.
This movie was a goddamned delight. To be honest, it was checking off a lot of boxes for me, so it would have had to have done something catastrophic to not make me like it, but hey, that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. We have a noir/comedy that pays equal measure to the Big Sleep as it does the Big Lebowski, set in the 70s, with a great funky soundtrack, that features two mostly inept private eyes bumbling their way through a plot that’s way too complicated for either of them to understand. That’s a lot of stuff I adore in one handy package. Everything about this movie was basically perfect. Shane Black’s frenetic, fun directorial style really worked wonders for this movie, and I’m fully on board anytime he tries his hand at the noir genre. Ryan Gosling is great as the probably alcoholic, dopey private eye trying to get his shit together while also raising his daughter, while also being a total numbskull. Robert Downey Jr played a similar role in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but Gosling was almost reaching “George Clooney in a Coen Brothers Movie” levels of buffoonery in this movie. Russel Crowe was even great as Healy. Crowe is an actor that can be very hit or miss for me, but he was great in this film, simultaneously pulling off being a credible badass, and rather soft-hearted and emotional when he started to get to know March and Holly. And Angourie Rice, the girl who played Holly? Amazing. I looked her up while writing this, and this is really her first major film, and she’s truly great. One of the best performances from someone her age I’ve ever seen. I kind of jokingly referred to her role in the movie earlier as Nancy Drew, but she was great. Sweet, funny, smart, and just a great counter-point to the two bumbling men in her life. I’ve never really seen this dynamic before, the private eye as a single dad, but it was great.
And in the end, like I said earlier, I just can’t imagine a way that this movie could have turned me off of it. It was exactly the type of movie that I love, as if it were made just for me. I’ve been reading and watching noirs for most of my life, and if there’s one standard in them it’s that the plots are almost indecipherable. They’re so twisty, and full of bizarre leaps of logic that you practically need flow charts to keep track of all the characters, who they are or are not working against, and who is actually telling the truth. Hell, there’s a famous story that when they were making the film adaptation of the Big Sleep, and asked Raymond Chandler to clarify one of the plot point, even he didn’t know what the hell was going on! But the way that they work is that everyone seems in on the weird joke. It’s pretty rare that a serious noir detective will have to stop and ask someone just what the hell is going on, because everyone in these universes are some sort of omniscient geniuses that can keep track of everything. And don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff too. But there’s a certain place in my heart that just loves when you throw the average person into one of these stories. It’s not like everyone is inept. Most the other characters in the Big Lebowski, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and even the Nice Guys know exactly what’s going on. It’s just our protagonists who are just as lost as we are. But the thing that this movie did great was the fact that they weren’t just idiots. They all had moments of brilliance, making really sound deductive leaps that ended up being correct. March and Healy never were really just guessing, and they didn’t win at the end of the day by accident. They worked hard. They may not have a really clear picture of what it exactly was that they did, but they did it damn it!
The Nice Guys was written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagrozzi, directed by Shane Black, and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures, 2016.
Categories: Reel Talk