Last night, along with seeing Trainspotting at the Alamo Drafthouse and watching The BFG at home, I also rewatched The Nice Guys.
Now, I saw The Nice Guys when it was first released last May and I absolutely loved it. However, before I started rewatching it, I was a little worried . I remembered that The Nice Guys was a stylish and often hilarious action film, one that featured a great comedic turn from Ryan Gosling and a performance from Russell Crowe that showed why he deserves to make a comeback as a leading man. I also remembered that, for all of its graphic violence and often profane dialogue, The Nice Guys was also an unexpectedly sweet-natured movie. I loved not only the rapport shared between Gosling and Crowe but also the relationship between Gosling and Angourie Rice, the actress playing his daughter. In fact, I remembered enjoying The Nice Guys so much that I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up to a second viewing.
It often happens when you love a film the first time that you see it. On a second viewing, you start to notice all the little flaws that you didn’t notice the first time. Lines that you remembered as being brilliant are no longer impressive, largely because you know they’re coming. All too often, the films that blow you away fail to hold up over time.
(Anyone tried to rewatch Inherent Vice lately?)
But you know what?
The Nice Guys is not one of those films. I watched the film for a second time and I loved it even more than the first time.
The Nice Guys takes place in Los Angeles in 1977. It’s a time of wide lapels, leisure suits, tacky interior design, porno chic, and concerns that the L.A. air is so full of smog that not even bumble bees are willing to fly around in it. Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a well-meaning if somewhat sleazy private investigator who has been hired to track down a porn star named Misty Mountains. Of course, Holland know that Misty is dead. Everyone knows that she’s dead. She died in a car crash, one that made all the headlines. But Misty’s aunt swears that she saw Misty after Misty’s supposed death.
Holland thinks that Misty’s aunt may have mistaken her niece for Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), the daughter of Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger, whose presence is meant to remind audiences of L.A. Confidential), an official at the Justice Department who has been leading a crusade against pornography. Holland starts to search for Amelia which leads to Amelia paying Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to intimidate Holland.
Who is Jackson Healy? Well, he’s not a licensed private investigator, though he’d certainly like to be. Instead, he’s a professional enforcer. If you pay him enough money, he’ll beat people up for you. Usually, he beats up stalkers and ex-boyfriends. When he discovers that Holland is a private investigator, Jackson is intrigued. Jackson would like to be a private investigator. Of course, that doesn’t stop Jackson from breaking Holland’s arm. Jackson’s a professional, after all. As Jackson leaves Holland’s house, he runs into Holly (Angourie Rice), Holland’s twelve year-old daughter. She gives him a bottle of Yoohoo.
Later, Jackson is confronted by two men. Keith David plays Older Guy and he’s intimidating because he’s Keith David. His partner is a giggly sociopath played by Beau Knapp. For reasons that are too much fun for me to spoil, he is known as Blue Face. The two men demand to know where Amelia is. After Jackson manages to chase them off with a shotgun, he teams up with Holland to try to track down Amelia and find out what’s going on…
Got all that?
The mystery — which eventually expands to involve everything from porn to political protest to the Detroit auto industry — is deliberately and overly complex but at the same time, it’s actually rather clever. And, as I can now say after rewatching the film, it actually holds up quite well. But, to be honest, the mystery is not as important as the whip smart dialogue, the frequently over the top action, and the chemistry between Gosling, Crowe, and Rice. As good as the action may be, the film’s best scenes are simply the ones that feature the three leads talking to each other.
(Upon discovering that Jackson both broke her father’s arm and that he beats people up for a living, Holly immediately asks how much it would cost to have one of her friends beat up.)
And you know what? As played by Gosling and Crowe, they really are the nice guys. Holland tries to be cynical but, for the most part, he’s just an overprotective father. Jackson may beat people up for a living but he’s not a sadist. He’s a lot like the film, violent but with a good heart.
The Nice Guys is full of wonderful set pieces, like when Gosling, Crowe, and Rice infiltrate a sleazy 70s party or the film’s explosive finale. For me though, I love the little details and the quieter moments. I love the fact that even one of the worst people in the movie responds postively to having someone innocently hold his hand.
(I also love that Matt Bomer shows up, playing a totally terrifying hitman. It’s a small role but Bomer does so much with it.)
It’s a shame that The Nice Guys came out as early in the year as it did. It’s also a shame that it didn’t do better at the box office. The Oscars could use a little action and a little comedy this year, don’t you think?