The year is 1987. A little buddy cop action-thriller called Lethal Weapon is released into cinemas. Directed by Richard Donner, it stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. But most importantly, it was the screenplay debut by a young, up-and-coming screenwriter named Shane Black. Black then went on to write a bucnh of otehr well known movies, including The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Then in 2005 he finally got to make his directorial debut, with buddy detective crime-comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer. Then it wasn’t until 2013 that we got to see Black’s next directorial effort, in the form of Iron Man 3, a superhero buddy story starring Robert Downey Jr. And then, a few years later, we saw Black’s next directorial effort…
The Nice Guys is a 2016 buddy crime-comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe (noticing a pattern yet?). Set in the late 1970s, it’s about a drunken loser/private detective (Gosling) who has to team up with a tough guy (Crowe) as they have to unfurl a conspiracy involving a dead porn star and a missing girl. It’s a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still presents a surprisingly engaging mystery to unfold, thanks to the clever and offbeat writing. It often indulges in classic buddy cop story beats, while also having enough self-awareness to slightly subvert them at other times.
A lot of what makes the journey so much fun to watch is also the cast. We already knew that Gosling and Crowe were great actors… but I don’t think anyone expected to be such a dynamic duo. Their individual performances here are good enough, but it’s when they come together that they truly shine. Chemistry this good hadn’t really been seen since Gibson and Glover in that other franchise that Shane Black helped kickstart. And the supporting cast is great too. Before she was in Spider-Man, Angourie Rice made a huge splash with her highly enjoyable supporting role as Gosling’s daughter, Holly. There’s a ton of other awesome supporting players too, such as Margaret Qualley, Matt Bomer, and Keith David. It’s a wonderfully put together cast.
Black’s directing here is relatively old school. Sure, the cameras are of course way newer and have a generally crisper image, but the way he shoots his scenes here very much a vibe of Die Hard or Lethal Weapon. And this is something I enjoy, it gives the action in the movie a certain punch that isn’t always seen these days. What is also wonderful about it is that Black often blends it with his comedy, which helps make the set pieces a lot more fun and memorable.
The music of The Nice Guys is quite interesting. On one hand you have an original score by John Ottman and David Buckley (two very talented composers), which is overall pretty good. Not exactly something I find in my regular spotify rotation, but it serves its scenes well. Then on the other hand is the selection of 70s rock/pop/disco jams to go along with the film’s 1977 setting. And while it could be easy for anyone to throw any popular songs from the era into a movie, these aren’t just some random grab-bag. You can tell that there was some thought to the songs chosen. And it makes for a fun soundtrack that complements the directing, acting, and writing wonderfully.
The Nice Guys is one of those movies that pretty much no one expected to be great. But then it came out and turned out to be one of the best films of the decade by hearkening back to a bygone era, while still feeling fresh and unique in its overall execution. It’s funny, exciting, and absolutely fantastic.