There are many people that feel that they are born into the wrong generation – and I count myself as someone who often feels misplaced within the 21st century. I often imagine myself enjoying the idiosyncratic nature of previous decades, and one that I have always felt I have a connection to is the 1970s. Luckily, I didn’t actually need to live through that decade to have experienced it, because as we all know, cinema has its own obsession with the 1970s – it is near enough that we have enough information about it, but far enough that it seems almost historical. I also find myself adoring hard-boiled detective fiction, particularly that of writers such as Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, where a distant detective takes on the case, involving deceit and a very alluring femme fatale. There have been a few films that have combined these two elements I adore – the likes of Inherent Vice, The Long Goodbye and to an extent, even The Big Lebowski. This year we were given the ultimate gift – one of the funniest and most brilliant detective films in many years, and overall one of the most fantastic comedies to come out in the past few years – The Nice Guys, a film that is always retro and swinging, and sometimes even a little nostalgic, but never sentimental.
Call me a sucker, but I love a good period film – history has always been one of my passions, and the collision between history and cinema blew my mind at a very early age. The best period films are sometimes those that aren’t set that long ago, and instead of being centered around a particular story, rather are set around a general era, where we are shown what like was like in the past. Some films have become masterpieces of cinema purely because of their attention to detail of a particular era, and The Nice Guys is exactly the same. It is always wonderfully attentive to the details of the 1970s, and much like in the works of Richard Linklater (particularly Dazed & Confused) and Paul Thomas Anderson (the aforementioned Inherent Vice, and Boogie Nights, which I felt was happening right around the block from the characters in this film), the 1970s is an era that is always gorgeous on film – the fashion, the aesthetics and of course the music (anyone who denies that music is one of the most important and vital elements of a film needs to watch a film like the ones I have mentioned, where music enhances the tone and general experience of the film. The Nice Guys may not be the very pinnacle of 1970s-set detective films (that one is open for debate) – but it is certainly an experience like very few I’ve seen, and it comes very close to being a masterpiece of the detective genre.
The film is set in Los Angeles in the year 1977. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a rough and cynical law enforcer that makes his living out of beating up perverts and evaders of the law. Nearby, Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private detective who suffered the death of his wife, and has to care for his daughter. Neither man is particularly ready for the investigation that will define their career – and what they don’t realize is that their fateful meeting will prove to be destiny, as they need each other to solve the mystery of a missing girl, who has heavy ties in the underworld of Los Angeles, and through their own cunning and instinctive insanity, they manage to somewhat solve the crime – but not without many diversions and the constant threat of death. Factors such as the adult film industry, the Department of Justice and the major motor vehicle manufacturers all emerge, and prove to be intertwined, which makes our protagonists even more confused, and proves the idea that the world is run by an elite group, which literature and cinema has been preoccupied with trying to prove for many years now.
Paranoia, bureaucracy and cold-blooded murder all link up and loom heavily over this film, making it far from just the fun and outrageous period comedy that promotional material makes it seem. It is as cerebral and smartly constructed as one would expect from a film of this subject matter. In fact, it is far from being the cathartic, brainless entertainment I thought it would be two years ago when I first heard of it being in development. It is sometimes difficult to keep track of this film, as everything intertwines, and you really need to keep your eyes open for all the clues and foreshadowing, which may seem like a criticism, but it is exactly the opposite – it is an honest commendation – its a film that seems to need a few more re-watches to catch everything, and when it is a film of such high caliber, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to watch it again – I personally can’t wait to see it again, because it really is that brilliant.
The two leads of The Nice Guys are on complete opposite spectrum for me. Ryan Gosling is an actor who I think has shown incredible promise, and is well on his way to becoming one of the all-time great actors, and Russell Crowe is an actor I have completely given up on in recent years, mainly because he started to appear to be a self-parody of himself, with gruff and brainless roles in disastrous films (and let us not talk about that unfortunate incident in Les Misérables, where he was required to sing. I still haven’t recovered). Having never really been a fan of Crowe, I was surprised to find him being actually quite good here – perhaps the fact that this is his first legitimately funny role in a straightforward comedy tells you something – and my biggest criticism of Crowe has always been that he has built his career out of seeming unapproachable, unlikable and very dour. While I wouldn’t say that this role gives Crowe the chance to let loose and have fun (as he is playing the same heavily dramatic and serious character, just in a much lighter and more self-deprecating manner), and it actually gives him the chance to do some great work and be enjoyable to watch.
However, Ryan Gosling is something else entirely – he’s rapidly becoming one of the best young actors working today, and I could easily see him entering the realm of being one of the greatest actors of all time. He is also an actor who started his career in serious films, but he’s made sure to include some films that showed his incredible diversity as a comedic actor. The Nice Guys is simply another great performance on Gosling’s already impressive list of cinematic achievements. Gosling is simply extraordinary in this film, and he further just cements the inevitable icon status he will eventually receive. Another interesting fact I picked up from The Nice Guys – Ryan Gosling has one of the most hilarious screams in cinema (and trust me, he screams a lot in this film). Crowe and Gosling have superb chemistry, and together they make this film extraordinarily special. A special mention must go to Angourie Rice – it is always wonderful to see a young and emerging talent, and I hope she has a fruitful career.
I adored The Nice Guys – it is smart, funny and filled with great filmmaking flairs. Shane Black may not be the most notable filmmaker, but he made a similarly dark but hilarious crime comedy over a decade ago in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (a hilarious reference to this film is in The Nice Guys), and proves himself to be someone who actually has a knack for this kind of offbeat crime humour (he also wrote Lethal Weapon) – and The Nice Guys is one of the most wonderful surprises this year. I was wrong to ever doubt this film. It may not be a masterpiece, but it comes very close, and its brilliance is only matched by its incredible ability to capture the 1970s in a very memorable way. I think The Nice Guys is certainly one of the best films of the year, and much like last year’s Spy (which I named as the best film of the year), The Nice Guys finds humour within a genre of action films, and brings incredible intelligence and meaning to an otherwise taut and overdone genre. Seek out The Nice Guys, it is definitely something you won’t forget anytime soon.