The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

In five years, we'll all be driving electric cars.

Decreasing bee populations. Pollutive fuel emissions. A gas crisis.

Motifs throughout The Nice Guys, these are growing maladies of the period. Of course, Shane Black has carefully chosen these specific issues because, well, they still exist. Aside from being an uproarious blend of comedy and buddy cop genres, The Nice Guys is also, in its own subtextual way, trying to question what defines a "good guy?" Or a "nice guy," in this case. Black is connecting that idea back to the aforementioned crises for a larger, cultural question about what a country's moral obligation is. If we as a society ignored these problems, what does that say about us? Like Amelia argues during a bedroom interrogation scene, movies can mean something, too.

At the heart of that dilemma are Holland March and Jackson Healy, two seriously bent, seriously conscience-less representatives of askew forms of justice. March only solves mysteries for money (in order to buy booze), Healy beats people up for money (in order to heal a broken heart). Explaining that he stopped a mad gunman in a diner a couple months back, Healy hits on the discovery these two men's arcs build to: some times it is rewarding to do something for no reward. Like any truly masterful screenwriter would, Shane Black and co-writer pal, Anthony Bagarozzi, establish as much in the film's opening sequence. Shortly after a young boy snatches his father's porno mag, he encounters the woman from the centerfold, dying from a car crash. Seconds after he was objectifying her photo in the magazine, the boy instinctively covers her naked corpse with his shirt. The nice thing, the moral thing to do.

Amidst that point, Shane Black, relying on his auteuristic talent, subverts audience expectations at every turn, both through verbal and visual humor. Hero cop tropes are up-ended consistently, as March overshoots the throwing of a gun to Healy or a counter attack with hot coffee turns cold. Not only are these hilariously pleasurable sight gags, but also an honest assessment of true heroism. There's always two perspectives, Healy says, a statement Black agrees with, proposing that a country still suffering from the same problems after forty years may not be the beacon it proclaims itself to be. Eventually the childish innocence of March's daughter (a career-starting performance from Angourie Rice) sets both men straight: helping out the whole rather than the self is an obligation. Pushing through the mistakes, egotism, greed, and screw-ups is what defines a hero.

And what would a Shane Black film be without Christmas? Applied pointedly in the final scene, the holiday signals what it always does in a Shane Black film, the rebirth of characters. We'll all be driving electric cars in five years. Sure, if we had only done the right thing.

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