Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Nice Guys (2016) - Movie Review

The weirdest aspect when it comes to actors decide to become filmmakers is when they go back to their acting gigs. This is especially true when the films that they made aren’t all that good. I’ve gone on at great length about the many issues concerning Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, which everyone else seems to be unwilling to acknowledge, and while I give Ryan Gosling’s Lost River its fair due, that’s only after the many weeks of Fridge Analysis I undertook to understand what the hell it was on about. I may like being overtly critical but a message about Detroit’s already well-publicised housing issues shouldn’t be this obtuse. Sure, they’ve been in films since, but those were definitely two of their wider-known products of late. So, with those still fresh in my mind, let’s see how they do when they are under the helm of the guy who most recently gave us the oft-maligned Iron Man 3.

The plot: After roughing up P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling), enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) discovers that they are both looking for the same person: A budding actress named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) whom may have a connection to recently deceased porn star Misty Mountains. The two reluctantly team up to track her down and discover her role in the overall scheme, which soon proves to be far more complex than either of them could have suspected.

We’re dealing with two actors who, after their varying failed attempts at directing films themselves, have found themselves with a lot to prove to yours truly on this one. Well, they certainly brought the goods this time around. Crowe isn’t usually someone I’m crazy about as an actor anyway, but he fits the golden-hearted brute role he’s given surprisingly well. You buy that this is the kind of guy that would strangle a man with a handkerchief, and then offer that same handkerchief to a woman in tears. Gosling has been saddled with the epitome of rock stupid with Holland March, a character that can easily be screwed up as idiocy is a difficult thing to make likeable, let alone sympathetic. Following up The Big Short in terms of his road to redemption, he delivers here by hitting the dim-witted notes just right so that you can laugh at him for his actions but still feel bad for doing so because of his circumstances.

On the other end of the intelligence spectrum would have be to his character’s daughter Holly, and Angourie Rice does brilliantly at showing Holly’s capabilities without it venturing into Penny Gadget territory. Words cannot express, after seeing her do so well in These Final Hours, how happy I am to see this young Aussie actress hit the big leagues like this. Around our core three, we get some nice returning faces in Kim Basinger and Keith David, both of whom I’m glad to see making good product again, and Matt Bomer as the hitman is intimidating but without any immediate chills when you look at him; basically, he’s how a hired killer should come across.

This is a buddy cop film, and while I would ordinarily roll my eyes at this from the offset seeing as how the recent crop from that genre has been middling at best, this feels astoundingly different from a lot of them that have been made recently. Hell, this actively feels like a film that would come out in the 70’s, just with modern cinematography. Now, I don’t mean this strictly in terms of its production value; Shane Black is a very slick filmmaker and this does indeed look gorgeous. No, I mean that this isn’t simply a throwback to the era; it lives and breathes the era. In a lot of buddy cop films, because of the prevalence of the genre itself, there is always this feeling of lip service to the genre’s past history. There’s a reason why "I’m getting too old for this shit" is as well-known as it is.

Here, it gives the same vibe as a film like Rambo: First Blood Part II did for the Vietnam action sub-genre, in that it gives the impression that this is the kind of film that gives birth to the cinematic standard. Don’t get me wrong, it wears its buddy cop colours proudly on its sleeve, but the filmmakers do so with so much confidence that it’s as if these tropes never existed before this movie. Far from the truth, but it’s very rare to see a film that is so self-assured while also having the brass to back it up. Crowe and Gosling have great chemistry and all of their respective beats, from Crowe’s backstory to Gosling’s wavering degrees of usefulness, land on very solid ground. This is coupled with nicely handled action beats, and the kind of script that shows a level of odd realism in its dialogue that is clever-funny in a way few films manage to reach.

What helps the feel of the film in terms of its historical context, beyond its name-dropping of topical events and the gag about Richard Nixon being the angel of death, is how there is a definite authenticity to it. When the plot starts to properly thicken, and we discover more details about the film that everyone is willing to kill for, we get a statement along the lines of “It’s not just the fucking, it’s also the plot” when it comes to porn. Now, here in the Internet age where companies barely stretch beyond 'This Ain’t An Actual Parody XXX' as far as creativity goes, this notion of the importance of the plot behind the genital IKEA instructions seems patently absurd.

Except this film is set in 1977, wedged in the middle of the Golden Age of Porn. The nudie film landscape is as bright as the poster for Deep Throat, the reason for which being that films like Deep Throat, Behind The Green Door, The Devil In Miss Jones and even the then-soon-to-be-released Debbie Does Dallas were ushering in an era of porn aesthetic the likes of which haven’t been seen since. It’s precisely because of their respective plots that they were getting attention, and they were all serving a purpose beyond just titillation. I mean, have you actually seen Deep Throat? Outside of the banging, it’s genuinely pretty funny when it tries to be. With that in mind, when the characters bring up porn as a means of exposing someone’s dirty dealings, it shows that this film has a better understanding of adult entertainment that even some of the better sex-centric films lack. It’s like the other side of the coin that 8MM is on; where that film showed the utter depravity that is associated with the industry, this shows what ultimate good can come from such pictures. Also, just as a side note: You know you’re a child of the Internet when the paragraph on porn is where the majority of your assumed knowledge shows up in a piece of writing.

All in all, this is a remarkably solid film. It’s funny, it has good action beats, its characters are nicely rounded and the overall production not only shows an unwavering swagger that makes it almost irresistible, but also the cold brick dedication to the era to prove that there is a beating heart beneath the puffed-out chest.

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