Shane Black is a huge favourite of mine. He wrote The Long Kiss Goodnight and wrote as well as directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (a bit of an oscular theme going on here) not to mention Iron Man 3. All films I love. Black is one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood.
And also one of the most highly paid. "That big paycheck," he recalls, "— on two occasions bigger than anybody had received for screenwriting in history — was a curse that ended up taking me out for a few years."
But during those years Black wasn't idle and cowrote a classic detective story with Anthony Bagarozzi. Now that script has finally seen the light of day under the title The Nice Guys. It's a dark buddy movie set in Los Angeles in the 1970s. The period setting is a boon, in all sorts of way. "First off," says Black astutely, "in suspense movies you lose cell phones, which is always great."
Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a guy who is paid to beat people up. He wears a very cool blue leather jacket. Ryan Gosling is Holland March (these are great names), a successful private eye on a self destructive trajectory. Healy is a reformed alcoholic. March is an unreformed one. Both have reasons to drink, and we learn both involve women.
These guys have issues with the female sex. For instance, March falls for a woman who is trying to kill him (Yaya Dacosta).
So far, so standard-noir. But in a stroke of genius, March has been given a 13 year old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). She's a terrific character and gets some of the best lines. Plus she provides moments of riveting jeopardy.
Crowe looks genuinely battered and gone to seed, which adds immensely to his characterisation. Gosling shows an exhilarating, unexpected comic genius. March and Healy team up to investigate the case of a missing porn star (Margaret Qualley). When Black and Bagarozzi researched the seventies they found "this horrible combination of smog and porn, which had sort of assailed the city."
The smog comes into it, too. As does a hitman who is named after John Boy in the Waltons (Matt Bomer). The Nice Guys is a taut, beautifully structured script which is also very funny. Describing an old woman with poor vision, March says, "She's as blind as a bat. If you painted a moustache on a Volkswagen she'd say, 'Boy that Omar Sharif runs fast!' "
The Nice Guys is a wonderful film — crazily hilarious and utterly engrossing. It filled me with joy from the opening titles onwards. Save for a very dodgy Nixon prosthetic, it would be perfect. Its ending is breathtakingly dark — Healy starts drinking again and March joins him in a bar — but also uplifting, since it hints at a sequel.
It's also, like everything else in the movie, very funny.
Not to be missed.
(Image credits: Thank you, Imp Awards.)