Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have fun in ‘70s Los Angeles
There is something inherently unappealing about Los Angeles. It’s a city that has been shown over and over again in Hollywood films, a natural byproduct of being the hometown of most major film productions, but it seems like the industry doesn’t have a lot of love for the city of angels.
While I’m sure anyone could come up with more than a dozen examples of film that proves the exact opposite, my impressions of the city come directly from film depictions and, as a result, it might be the last place in California I’d ever want to visit.
Film has a distinct power for coloring perception. There are lots of establishing shots of L.A. in The Nice Guys, a private detective film set in 1970’s Los Angeles, that at first glance is meant to show the city with a certain sense of beauty. The camera pans down from the Hollywood Hills at night to show the twinkling lights stretching off into the darkness but this only serves to remind the viewer that the city is flat, paved, and artificial.
In a film like The Nice Guys, the setting serves as a reminder that our heroes are just as seedy, just as unappealing, as their hometown.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) isn’t from L.A., but he wound up there all the same. His distinct New York accent marks him as a tough guy, one that could easily cave in a head, but his demeanor is pleasant and polite. He makes his money as an enforcer for hire, for fathers looking to get rid of men interested in their underage daughters or girls looking to rid themselves of a stalker or two. Healy shows, breaks a few bones, gives some advice, and goes about his day.
Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is not especially tough, given his chosen profession of private eye. He’s no hard boiled Sam Spade. He’s a used car salesman, the type of guy that will steal a wallet and then charge his victim to look for it. March sees no value to what he does—there are no happy endings, just the next paycheck.
The Nice Guys goes a little overboard on the stereotypical characterizations, but manages to give the audience something to care about introducing Holly (Angourie Rice), Holland’s 12 year old daughter. She is the real light of the film, the spark that keeps it from wallowing too much in the excess of 1970’s society.
Like most young sidekicks, Holly tags along without permission and shows herself to be more valuable than the heroes themselves—she’s Penny from Inspector Gadget, frequently checking off the adults’ useless trope by finding the bad guy while her dad drunkenly chases mermaids at a pool party.
The Nice Guys is fairly standard private eye fare, at times working like an R-rated episode of Magnum P.I. It’s far funnier than you might expect; many of the jokes are blue, but it’s the slapstick elements of the film work the best. Ryan Gosling does his best to channel Lou Costello and proves himself to be a very capable comic actor. Crowe works well as the straight man and there is obvious chemistry between the two actors.
The last act of the film works to set up a sequel, and while The Nice Guys doesn’t have a Lethal Weapon or 21 Jump Street franchise feel, I wouldn’t mind seeing these characters again sometime in the future, provided the writing stays strong.
Director Shane Black, who wrote the screen play for 1987’s Lethal Weapon and directed the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang knows his way around this type of film. As long as he stays in involved, another film would likely be worth seeing.
There’s nothing wrong with a film that doesn’t deviate from the standard. The Nice Guys checks all the right boxes and peppers the story with well timed gags and one liners. It’s not an award winning film, or an important film, but it is a fun film. Spring is winding down and summer is fast approaching. Soon there will be nothing but blockbusters and CGI spectacle. The Nice Guys is none of these things and it may be a while before we see another film like it.