The Nice Guys opens with a haunting bit of mystery. After establishing the 1977 Los Angeles setting, we see a young boy (Ty Simpkins) waking up late at night to look at a porno mag. One of the stars in the centerfold is the sultry Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), a major star in the adult industry. Suddenly, a car crashes through the boy's house. The car flies out the window and onto a cliff, causing the boy to rush outside to see what had just happened. What he finds is a totaled automobile and one dead porn star, who just so happens to be Misty Mountains. Before she takes her last breath, she says one final thing to the boy: "How do you like my car, big boy?"
A short while after, we meet Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a hired muscle and one of L.A.'s most notorious tough guys. Healy specializes in helping protect young girls from perverted old men, and while he's "not in the Yellow Pages," he's a constant fixture in the L.A. crime scene. When the film begins, Healy is working for Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), who is being followed by Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a small-time private investigator and full-time drunk. March is conducting his own investigation of Amelia and the death of Misty Mountains, but Healy is just there to do his job. He breaks March's arm and tells him to stay away from Amelia. Having made his money and thinking that the job is done, he heads home.
But when Healy heads home, he realizes that this Amelia case might not quite be as simple as he previously thought. Waiting for him are two hired thugs (Keith David and Beau Knapp) who both want to know where Amelia is. She's disappeared, they tell him, and some very important people need to know about her sudden departure. Thinking that her disappearance might be a very tricky case, Jackson launches an investigation and brings Holland March back in to assist. Intimidated after Healy's brutal attack, March is resistant to work with him again. But after being paid a sufficient amount of money, the two investigators team up. Despite their initial differences, March and Healy become a formidable, yet bumbling duo, working their way through the inner workings of the Los Angeles underbelly to find a conspiracy that has the potential to change the nation forever.
Any good buddy cop movie requires great actors at its center, and thankfully, The Nice Guys has one of the most spectacularly funny duos in recent memory. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have magnetic, engaging chemistry, and they way that they contrast and work with each other is simply brilliant. Crowe is playing to type here (there are plenty of scenes where he's brutal, quiet, and full of subdued anger), but the script allows for him to have some tremendously funny moments as well. While most of those flashes of comedic genius come from playing off of Gosling, Crowe's Healy is dynamic and compelling, and his arc is the one that audiences will connect with. On the other hand, Gosling is pure comic gold, bumbling and stumbling his way through his scenes with a physical brashness that works so well. Gosling is mostly known for his steely calm killers and romantic heroes, but this time around, he gets the chance to play a total loser and it's just a blast to watch.
Gosling and Crowe are the lively center of The Nice Guys, but they were lucky enough to have a stellar supporting cast to back them up. Matt Bomer, Keith David, and Beau Knapp all shine as villainous lackeys, some of whom are calmly effective, while others are bumbling idiots. Margaret Qualley's Amelia is shrill, crazy, and dazzling, which is pretty much exactly what that character needed to be. Ultimately, the breakout star of the film is Angourie Rice, who plays March's daughter, Holly. Rice was totally unknown to me when I walked in, but if her performance in this film is any indication, she's a child star who's going to be around for a long time. Gosling and Crowe are two formidable Hollywood stars, and in every scene, Rice holds her own with these giants. In fact, it gets to the point where she practically operates as a third member of the detective duo. Carrying herself with a sassy energy during every scene, Rice damn near steals the show at times.
The Nice Guys is is enormously benefited by its electrifying, hysterical performances, but then again, just about every single thing in this film is downright terrific. It's so carefully crafted, so meticulously put together, and so cleverly smart that you just can't help but get wrapped up in it. The story is complex, intricate, and wildly twisty, but the way that it evolves and builds is absolutely perfect. Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi's screenplay has so many small parts that come together exceptionally well and it's quite an experience to watch it happen on screen for the first time. It's always fun to connect the dots while watching a detective movie, and this movie has one of the most intelligent and fascinating stories I've seen in recent years.
Part of The Nice Guys' unique appeal is the way that it mixes that old time noir style with a brilliant sense of fun, and that special feeling is created during every scene in the movie. Shane Black brought a similar noir sensibility to Iron Man Three back in 2013, and it's abundantly clear that Black has a mastery of the genre. His script contains such crackerjack, ingenious dialogue, allowing each scene to fit perfectly into the film's singular tone. Black's direction is equally terrific, capturing the action in a style that constantly shifts between workmanlike and flashy. The Nice Guys is a noir film at its heart, but it's also a big, bombastic action movie, the likes of which we don't see too often anymore. Black knows this and the film is filled with classic Hollywood style and fantastic setpieces. The pacing is also impeccable- The Nice Guys barrels along at an absurd pace, keeping the audience in the loop but never slowing down.
The Nice Guys is also just a fantastic-looking movie, a beautiful designed Hollywood blockbuster that is just wonderful to behold. Philippe Rousselot's cinematography captures the essence of 1970s Los Angeles, mixing a seedy grittiness with a garish and jazzy blast of color that mixes for a truly magnificent look. The film does have a score from David Buckley and John Ottman, but ultimately, it's the soundtrack that shines. With songs from The Temptations, Kiss, America, Andrew Gold, and more, the music is essential to capturing the tone of the era. Costume design isn't usually something I highlight, but each character in The Nice Guys has their own distinct vibe that is created by Kym Barrett's phenomenal wardrobe choices. These all seem like small things in comparison to the aforementioned strengths of the movie, but it all enhances the movie. The Nice Guys is a portrait of a lost time and every snazzy Los Angeles detail feels so perfect. Without a doubt, this film has joined the pantheon of great L.A. movies.
The Nice Guys is an instant classic. I have no qualms saying that at all. This movie just works so, so well. It's the kind of film that reminds you why you go to the movies, a flick that will continue to be watched and appreciated for years. I could probably watch The Nice Guys three or four times in a week and not get sick of it. By blending the colorful comic absurdity of a wacky cartoon with the hard-boiled fun of a detective thriller, Shane Black has seamlessly crafted some strange kind of masterpiece, an iconic L.A. film with a dazzling sense of style, two hugely entertaining performances, and a plot that fits together like a perfect puzzle. Summer 2016 is showing plenty of promise so far, but I can't imagine that any film will top the lively and delightfully absorbing heights of The Nice Guys. It's that good.
THE FINAL GRADE: A+ (10/10)
Image Credits: Guardian, Telegraph, Forbes Rolling Stone, Coming Soon, Joblo