The Nice Guys

(MA15+) Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling

Have you ever had those nostalgic moments and pulled out some of your favourite films from the past? After watching them for awhile, you realise that they contain more mature themes than you remembered? This has happened to me multiple times when trying to share films with others from the ’80s. Some are more subtle and nuanced than today’s theatrical releases, but these experiences have led to some moments of surprise or, even, embarrassment.

Being set in Los Angles in 1977 gives the whole look and feel of The Nice Guys that throwback flavour of the buddy cop films of yesteryear. One thing can be said of this retro experience is that subtlety is not a characteristic trait of this dark comedy from writer-director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3). Private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and local goon Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) unwittingly cross paths to assist in finding and protecting a young lady named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), as well as investigating her involvement in the death of a famous porn starFrom their initial meeting, March and Healy are at odds, but they soon determine to work together. So they can get to the bottom of a series of deaths that centre on the production of a pornographic film — and a government investigation into the American auto industry. With many of their leads dying and the added difficulty of their lives being threatened, March and Healy are driven by some urgency and a glimmer of justice, to expose the true culprits behind this series of murders.

Black has previuosly proven to have a knack for developing strong pairings of male leads in action/comedies (Lethal Weapon to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). With full creative license on the production of The Nice Guys and the provision of strong acting talent, the strength of this film rests soundly in the relationship between Crowe and Gosling. They do bring the needed nuances of a male relationship to make it all believable, humorous and entertaining. Their relationship is able to grow through the typical banter of men getting to know one another and they are supported by a decent cast. Kim Basinger (8 Mile) gives a convincing performance as the mother of Amelia, but it is the relatively unknown Australian actress Angourie Rice (These Final Hours) who commands attention whenever she is on screen. Her portrayal of March’s young daughter Holly is mature beyond her years and she shows a confidence among this strong male cast that is impressive and deserves special acknowledgment.

The humour and the relational bonds of the lead characters provide the nostalgic push to give this film some redeeming qualities. Unfortunately, the excesses of the script drag down its overall value. With the porn industry being at the heart of this comedic mystery, there was no surprise that there is excessive nudity and language. Being an action film, there must be a certain expectation of violence.

But the question has to be asked: where is the line of excess in all of these areas? Black takes the three categories of nudity, language and violence to new extremes that eventually begin to muddle up the better aspects of The Nice Guys. It is especially evidenced in the role of Holly March. While Rice is fantastic in her portrayal of the wise daughter of the woe-be-gone private investigator, but the situations that she is put in are distasteful. From being left in the boot of her father’s car, to watching porn with a porn star or the excessive neglect of her father, what Holly is put through are all played for laughs. But they only produce a feeling of disgust. Trying to balance out the humour and action with these areas of repulsive content causes an uncomfortable response to The Nice Guys.

I had a new level of excitement about a buddy film that seemed to have an intelligent, humorous premise. The strength of the cast and the writing skills of Black showed promise on arrival to the theatre, but it was a short-lived euphoria. The excesses of elements surrounding the basic plot caused this potentially great film to turn into a victim of attempting to push the barriers of filming.

I cannot recommend this film to anyone under the age of 18 … and encourage most to stay away from these naughty boys.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

What is the value of a good friend? Buddy films have been around through a lot of cinema history and they reveal the felt need we all have for friendships. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, the ancient king Solomon writes of friendship in this way: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” This is one encouraging passage among many that talks to the value of friendship and how God is the author of this beautiful gift to humanity.

  1. What does the God have to say about friendship ? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Proverbs 18:24)
  2. Does God want to be our friend? (Genesis 3)
  3. Does God care about my life? (Matthew 6: 8, 26)

Adrian Drayton

Adrian Drayton is the Director of Reel Dialogue. A film critic and commentator on culture for 20 years, he believes in the power of cinema and the power of God to start conversations about faith and culture. He is also a massive Star Wars nerd.