The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys ★★★★

Shane Black is undoubtedly far more respected as a screenwriter than he is for his directorial talents, and while he’s arguably not combined both skillsets often enough for me to form much of an opinion on his efficacy as a writer-director, this is easily the most successful example of him doing so. It’s probably closest in tone to his directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: adopting the mode of another darkly comedic, neo-noir-styled mystery, though this time leaning much more into the “buddy action” side of things. KKBB was a film I really enjoyed, even though I found it almost impossible to keep up with due to the frenetic pace of its His Girl Friday-esque dialogue. This, on the other hand, sees Black trade out this unforgiving, rapid-fire approach for a much more steadily paced premise that by comparison gives both of its two lead performers—Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe—much more space to play around with the material and to bounce off each other’s performances, to brilliant effect. I clearly need to backtrack on my prior position of ignorance regarding Gosling’s talents as a comic actor (as per my Barbie review) because he’s obviously a complete natural, and if it weren’t for his recent barnstorming turn as Beach Ken, there would be a sound case for saying that this is my favourite performance of his, full stop. His comic timing is impeccable, demonstrated particularly during the richly written exchanges between him and Crowe’s thuggish enforcer, in which he generates laughs as much through his facial reactions as he does through perfectly attuned verbal retorts. Crowe is very much adopting that volatile, tough guy persona that probably isn’t all that far removed from his real one, yet he presents the perfect foil to Gosling’s more jittery and highly strung investigator. They’re a fun duo to watch as they trade these sardonic, withering remarks with each other while generally stepping on each other’s toes. They prove a somewhat clumsy, yet surprisingly effective, pairing, who somehow get the job done, despite seemingly being way in over their heads at every turn. It’s the ideal sort of setup for this modern spin on the classic screwball comedy format.

Even thinking back to the quality of Black’s earlier penned scripts, this might now be the most immediately appealing, and the one I already want to go back to. It’s usually a very good sign if you find yourself laughing out loud at something when you’re the only person in the room to hear it. It’s my go-to litmus test when it comes to comedies, and this one passes that test with flying colours.

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