The Nice Guys: A Film That Doesn't Finish Last

The Nice Guys

Dir.: Shane Black




Director and writer Shane Black has consistently written fun films with entertaining arcs that often subvert expectations and provide spectacle. His newest effort, The Nice Guys, is no exception, and it's a welcome addition to his filmography in an era that doesn't usually allow mid-level buddy crime comedies. With the turn of the millenium in film largely consisting of balancing acts between high-octane, big budgeted blockbusters, and low budget, intimate indie darlings, The Nice Guys is a breath of fresh air.

Showing influences such as The Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice, the narrative in The Nice Guys follows a similar style of progression: two bumbling, but likable private investigators--Russell Crowe's brutish, no-nonsense thug, and Ryan Gosling's alcoholic-but-well-meaning dolt--stumble upon a conspiracy that gets bigger and bigger in scope the more the protagonists dig deep into the scandal. While this story does not come across as complex or convoluted as the two former films, the film's witty dialogue and the two lead actors' chemistry buffer the mostly linear narrative. The story does have some surprising turns, but these turns are mostly played for humor and for entertainment's sake, rather than any kind of artistic statement.

The writing never really devolves into incoherent chaos, but the film does try to shove in some oddly placed ecocriticism in the third act, with Gosling's character in particular offering third-wall breaking insights into their future/our present, and unfortunately, this comes off as half-baked and cheesy. Ironically, the film's greatest strength, its writing, is also its greatest weakness, as Black doesn't know where to go in the film's final acts except for ground that both he and other writers have tread before, either in the Lethal Weapon films or other generic buddy-cop teamups. Thankfully, the film is a well-made period piece, featuring great cinematography, costume and set design. Black's filmmaking prowess has never been at its most artful, and the film benefits greatly for its technical construction in this regard, especially since it lacks any kind of specific message or ultimate narrative uumph. 

The Nice Guys more than makes up for its narrative missteps by providing admirable spectacle. The comedic timing of the actors combined with the surprising puns and turns on buddy-cop genre convention both combine to provide immense entertainment for the dialogue-driven scenes, and the action stays visceral and affecting, coming at appropriate times in the narrative in order to assist the viewer in staying engaged. The final reveals of the ultimate antagonists were easy to see coming, but the narrative does leave the film open to a franchise. I'd personally like to see more films or even a premium cable TV show with these two investigating other conspiracies and generally solving other cases, as long as Black stays along for the ride.

The Nice Guys is a fun, stylized good time at the movies in an era where a good time at the movies isn't as cherished as it used to be. Both blockbuster and indie films in Hollywood have begun to take themselves far too seriously, and it's nice to see the opposite from a proven cast and crew, in a great film that both idolizes and channels the good ol' days. Not only does Black imbue his own visual and auditory flair within The Nice Guys, helping it succeed as a work of art, but ultimately, Black reminds us that, ultimately, films can be both artful AND fun. More filmmakers need to follow Black's lead.