Shane Black may have made his name in the mainstream as the director of the (imperfect yet unfairly maligned) Iron Man 3, but to me he’ll always be best known as the director of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. A neo-noir comedy with a sharp script, solid direction and a consistent love of breaking the 4th wall, it may have been designed to appeal directly to me, but goddamn if it also wasn’t one of the funniest and cleverest comedies of the last decade.
Despite that, I have to admit, I was a little nervous when I heard he was doing another neo-noir comedy. Returning to a well, no matter how successful, is always a risky thing, and even the most talented writer or director can begin to repeat themselves. Still, the trailers looked good, and the cast seemed to be solid, so I went in trying to be optimistic.
The plot is devoted to Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe) a sarcastic and detached muscle for hire living in LA in the 70s. He winds up being hired by a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to help stop a guy who has been following her around, which Healy does, violently. But, the guy following her turns out to be PI Holland Marsh (Ryan Gosling) who was hired by an elderly woman who thought she saw her (deceased) niece at her old house.
Shane Black’s best skill has always been his scripts. He’s a solid director, and good at picking out casts, but his dialogue writing skills have always been best, and those are on full display in this movie. The plot of the movie is loose and strange, the pacing casual, but the dialogue is what most people are going to remember coming out of the theater. Put simply, the script is fantastic and the dialogue crackles off the screen, effortlessly moving the plot along while keeping the comedy level high throughout.
Not to say it’s the only source of humor. As you might have gleaned from the trailer, the move is also a big fan of broad physical comedy. This is one of the few areas where the film actually escalates things significantly, beginning with simple pratfalls and light punches and culminating in a huge climactic setpiece at the very end, which shows off some of the best physical comedy I’ve seen all year.
This is if not difficult material, than complex material to make work, but the cast is all pretty game for it. Crowe is the understated straight man of the bunch, which is something he’s good at, but also not particularly interesting in the performance department. Gosling on the other hand, manages some great work as the alcoholic, depressed and manipulative detective. He’s an asshole, but he’s a fun to watch asshole, and Gosling brings him alive fantastically. The only other actor or actress worth mentioning is Angourie Rice, who could have sunk the whole movie, but elevates it, as a sharp teenager who isn’t fooled by her dad’s b******t for a second.
If it seems like I’m being purposefully broad and vague about the plot outline, it’s because I am. The plot goes so sideways and is so different at the end from what it looks like at the outset that I don’t want to spoil it. It winds up being significantly stranger, more unique and yet, more cynical than I could have predicted. It’s a weird plot, and if I told you all the ways it wound up fitting together, I don’t think you’d believe me.
It’s not as perfect as Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, though it definitely comes closer than Iron Man 3. The stranger elements, like a couple of brief dream sequences or an odd thing about bees that comes up at the last minute and doesn’t really connect anywhere else, feel out of place. It’s easygoing pace does get tiresome occasionally, when you wish they’d just get moving. And I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ending is so incredibly cynical that it might turn some people off. Not me, I love cynical endings, but you know, just be warned.
I mentioned above that I was nervous, yet optimistic, about The Nice Guys, and it’s nice to see my optimism pay off for once. The Nice Guys is the most fun I’ve had in a theater this year. It’s a clever, engaging, enjoyable comedy with a slightly deeper, if more cynical, point to be made. It may not be my movie of the year come December, but it’s my favorite right now, and you should definitely see it.
Elessar is a 26 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he doesn’t think either of the lead characters are that nic-ohhhhhhhh.
– fantastic script
– solid acting across the board
– freaking hilarious
– ending is super cynical
– can occasionally feel disjointed
– kind of slow paced sometimes