I’m gonna break some criticism rules up top, but this is my blog, so you go read somewhere else if you don’t like it. But please, keep reading, I crave your approval.
There is nothing that irritates me more than complaints about “modern Hollywood filmmaking.” People who just “don’t see anything they want to see anymore” are people who aren’t going out of their way to see anything. There are TONS of movies that are made for adults, not everything is a big-budget CGI-fest, and this is actually one of the best eras of storytelling in years for major budget blockbusters.
What irritates me about this even more is that I hear this from people that then don’t bother to take a chance to see the things that they supposedly crave. People want original movies for adults that deal with big issues and have stars putting forth challenging performances that are still entertaining and fun. And then The Nice Guys comes out to 11.2 million dollars in a weekend where the motherfucking Angry Birds movie (more on that one in a day or two) made 39 million.
Folks, Hollywood is a business and they can only take risks if you tell them to. If you don’t turn out for the kind of films you want to see, then there’s no reason for them to make them. If you want your multiplexes to be filled with the best American filmmaking can offer, then your ass needs to get up and go see it. So, if that isn’t enough, let me take some actual time here to tell you why seeing The Nice Guys isn’t just an investment in the future, but an investment in two of the best hours I’ve had this summer.
The Nice Guys comes to us from director Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weapon and director of Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and Iron Man 3 and The Last Boy Scout. In other words, it’s a buddy action film from the man who invented and is still the reigning king of the buddy action genre.
The film follows Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), an enforcer hired to keep detectives away from “missing” young woman Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), and Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a private detective hired to find Amelia. March is blessed (as is the audience) with a 13 year old daughter named Holly (Angourie Rice), a budding young detective herself, who helps to keep her alcoholic father in line.
Obviously, being involved in the same case causes the paths of Healy and March to cross and the two get embroiled in a conspiracy involving porn, environmental scandals, the Big 3 Detroit Auto Manufacturers, multiple assassins, and the smog-choked 70s LA in the middle of an America that’s slowly suffocating.
The Nice Guys is a buddy detective comedy that succeeds on every level that genre implies.
Gosling and Crowe have an immense amount of chemistry in this film. Gosling’s move away from the Drive “Blank-Faced-Kuleshov-Effect” thing he was doing for a few years is much appreciated, and I think Crowe is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood (and not just because I feel like I may bear a passing resemblance to modern day Crowe) , proving it with an immensely charismatic and complex performance in this film as a bruiser who just wants to go about his life without questioning it too much. And the two feel absolutely at home trading quips and unraveling a mystery together. They feel like they’re setting up the partnership in your favorite series of detective novels.
But it isn’t just Gosling and Crowe. The secret heart of this movie is Holly March, Holland’s daughter. Rice is a wonderful young actress, conveying a confidence and intelligence beyond her years, and Black may be one of the best writers of children working in film. Holly is bold without being precocious, and assertive without being annoying. Black even manages to make the scene where she slips into a porn party following behind her dad dance around the skeezy aspect and make Holly feel like a legitimate detective working in this scenario. I kinda need a whole show of Detective Holly March working to solve crimes in Boogie Nights LA.
Black gets one of the most crucial lessons in studio filmmaking which is that making his characters great allows him carte blanche with the convoluted mystery plot and also allows his comedy and his action to flow absolutely naturally. This movie is riotously funny just in the way our two leads conduct themselves. I don’t know if I’ve laughed harder than when a late stage investigation brings them up to the penthouse of a hotel where they exit the elevator, hear the screams and gunshots of an assassin at work, and then immediately turn around and ride back down the elevator, not exchanging a glance but sharing the same expression of barely contained terror.
But of course, besides the gifts of our actors, it’s a Shane Black production, so The Nice Guys is tightly plotted and filled with witty bits of dialogue and visual gags (Look at the face on the magazine that Gosling at one point covers his junk with). It’s also using that dense assault of laughs and action to pry open Black’s unique view of America.
Yep, The Nice Guys, like most 70s movies and most movies made about the 70s afterwards, is about the slow death of the America that any of the characters recognize, and that none of us have realized the death until just now.
While there have been a lot of voices about this, Black’s take can be best described as “Fuck everybody.” The Nice Guys is funny and exciting with great characters, but it’s also a mean fucking film. Everyone is doing something wrong, even the “Nice Guys”, and everyone is complicit in an America that’s sliding down hill. And moreover, it doesn’t even matter what they’re doing, because the arc of the universe is short and it bends towards everything getting worse.
Essentially, the whole conspiracy of the film hinges on proving the collusion of the big 3 Detroit auto manufacturers to shove down the electric car. The evidence is found, but the government throws the case out anyway. And March makes an aside that “It doesn’t matter. In five years, we’ll all be driving electric cars.” Spoiler alert: We’re not.
The Nice Guys has a fairly firm belief that not only is nobody in power working for the best interest, but those who try to work for the best interest are just gonna get fucked over anyway. So do what you can, and America’s gonna slide on down to the bottom anyway
To me, that’s immensely fascinating. This is a major studio film! Warner Brothers made this! Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe starred! Yet it’s an undeniably dark view of humanity and America wrapped up in a mile-a-minute action-comedy coating. That’s Shane Black at his best and that’s Hollywood at its best.
There’s still time folks. The first weekend is gone, but the second weekend is coming up. Go out and support great Hollywood studio filmmaking. The bonus is having one of my favorite films of the summer to see while you do it