The Nice Guys brings us Russell Crowe being brooding and wonderful and a fantastically involved Angourie Rice as Ryan Gosling’s daughter… but unfortunately that means we have to have Ryan Gosling whining along for the two hours as well.
Set in 1977, The Nice Guys follows Jackson Healy (Crowe), a smalltime thug who likes a simple life, and Holland March (Gosling), a private detective with alcoholism, no moral code and a daughter (Rice) to provide for. The two pair up to investigate the death of porn star Misty Mountains and to find Amelia, an associate of Misty who has gone missing and is being hunted down by a local gang.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy Gosling from time to time, and when I saw the second trailer for this film I was most looking forward to his performance purely because he made me laugh the most; cutting himself with an electric razor, punching the window and the bit with the toilet cubicle door. However, as I go and see films a lot in the cinema and a large portion of them showed this trailer, I felt the ridiculousness of that last one before I even saw the film and by the time I did see it, it wasn’t funny anymore. Physical comedy is a very precise art, and Gosling does do a good job of it on first impression, it’s just that it’s funniness decreases with repeated viewings.
It’s not just the comic moments of Holland March (a name I don’t remember being mentioned once in the film and I am only aware of thanks to IMDb) that bugged me, it was also his depth. Ryan Gosling is in his element when he plays the douchey guy who thinks he’s better than everyone else – take The Big Short, for example – and he is that in this, but that’s about all he is. Sure, he cares about his daughter, but she’s the one with the poignant moments about what happened to her mum. And it’s wonderful to see a female lead, especially a 13-year-old girl, being given the gravitas, but it did leave me wondering: Why is Ryan Gosling here? and then shortly answering myself with: Comic relief. But by the end of two hours, he was more of an annoyance than a relief.
The other source of comedy was violence, which generally isn’t a good message to send out. Shane Black’s previous feature in a similar vein, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), featured a lot of violent scenes but it was always used to further the plot or impact a character, and every death mattered. In The Nice Guys, on the other hand, someone being shot in the shin through a hot tub is met with a theatre-full of laughs and the guy is never seen again. Yes, he’s a bad guy, but since when did someone being shot become funny?
I lost count of the total collateral body count. They try to account for it at the end – “Nobody got hurt.” “People got hurt.” “I’m saying they died quickly though, so I don’t think they got hurt.” – by yet again making a joke out of it. Accompany this by the morality-bereft Deadpool, and the advocation of violence to the young people who will inevitably watch these films becomes the reason they want to watch them.
It’s not only violence. One of the things I liked about Crowe’s character Healy was that he didn’t drink. I don’t recall any explanation being offered, which I liked because why should anyone need a reason not to drink? March consistently drinks himself silly and is made a fool of because of it. But again, at the end, March and Healy share a drink, with March commenting, “Well at least you’re drinking again.” The implication that drinking is the solution to problems in the adult world makes me angry. It may be a throwaway line, and a pessimistic one to tag the end scene with, but couldn’t we have had a more positive one where March makes an attempt to stop rather than Healy being dragged down? Especially when it is implied that the reason he’s now troubled is his positive decision to not kill someone. Even Holly, March’s daughter, says “I need a drink” at one point – now, if she were a kid trying to act grown-up but not being as mature as she thought she was (as many side characters like her are), this line would have had less of an impact on me, but seeing as she’s actually more mature than her father this implies that she’s learnt that drinking is all part of adulthood. She knows that March is an example of excess, but there’s still the suggestion that alcohol is the way to deal with things. Again, not the best message to send out.
As much as these themes frustrated me, and the fact that every gunshot was mixed to way too high a level, I have to give credit where it’s due. Russell Crowe was fantastic. He was subtle enough, deadpan enough, reactive enough and complex enough and that juxtaposed with Gosling’s exhausting physicality made him far more interesting to me. The trailer also led you to believe that this was a buddy movie between Crowe and Gosling, but the real chemistry was between Healy and Holly. They were the ones moving everything forward, the ones who were smart. They had a relationship akin to Rogue and Wolverine in X-Men and the scenes between just the two of them were the ones that held weight.
Alas, aside from Holly, I wasn’t especially taken in by the other female characters. There was a good balance of men and women overall, and I suppose the only male character I liked was Healy, but Tally’s arc from nice assistant to assassin who gets knocked out was predictable and she only seemed to be there to be easily overcome. Her setting them up was obvious as well, and Healy not realising it seemed to be out-of-character but unavoidable if the plot were to continue as planned. Kim Basinger was unexciting too, popping up in only two scenes, one of which – yet again one of the end scenes – consisted of her giving an uninspiring ‘I was doing it because that’s what the law says’ speech and casually resigning herself to life in prison. We never got enough emotion from her performance; if she’d seemed to be suppressing rage when explaining her and her daughter Amelia’s disputes, it would’ve been much more believable that she tried so hard to have her killed – in fact I was certain that Basinger’s character didn’t have enough conviction in her for that to be the truth of the situation. I’m all up for female villains, but I like them to have a bit more fire in them, or at least looking like they’re trying rather than waiting for the pay cheque.
In the end, The Nice Guys isn’t a bad film per se – it’s well made, it has some solid performances and I did laugh at various points. However, the too-loud and too-frequent shoot-outs and punch-ups left me wishing I was watching Robert Downey Jr looking out for his high school crush whilst hanging off a coffin wedged on top of a road sign.