Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is an action-comedy film meticulously created with layers of subtle character development, endless witty quips, and scenarios that will keep you rolling in laughter throughout its almost two hour run time. Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi have written a screenplay that is so clever and has so much heart that it can convince anyone of having a little bit of optimism even in the face of completely hopeless odds. To top off the fantastic writing, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe turned in a two-man comedy performance so impressive that you’ll wonder why this film didn’t get the rightful attention that it deserved back in 2016.
Set in 1970s Los Angeles, a down on his luck private investigator named Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is set on figuring out the mysterious death of a famous porn star. The case becomes more complicated when a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) becomes a person of interest, leading to March crossing paths with his illegal private eye counterpart, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe).
The screenplay by Black and Bagarozzi has more wit than any typical Hollywood shlock made in the past ten years. Not only is this film incredibly clever, but the cleverness actually functions within the story by either revealing character development, intricate plot points, or subverting the typical cliches of “buddy cop” films. The dialogue is in the perfect realm between completely unbelievable and humanely real, where the language is elevated just enough to heighten the inherently absurd peculiarities of human behavior and speech. The only potential problem with the screenplay is the structure itself and how the main villain of the film isn’t revealed until halfway through the film. However, as a typical noir-ish mystery film, fun lies in figuring out the secretive person, or persons, that are creating havoc within the popular porn industry of that time, making for a very thrilling, and hilarious ride.
The performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe were genuinely masterful. No two combination of actors could have ever brought the script to life the way these two men do. The little intricacies and quirks these two performers add to their characters make them feel like they’re real people with problems bubbling underneath the surface that come out in extremely subtle ways. Furthermore, when these problems need to explode out for comic effect, they do it in spades with their perfectly timed back and forth dialogue delivery and physical comedy.
Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is a criminally underrated masterpiece from a screenwriter who has constantly renovated the action-comedy film formula.