The Nice Guys

To me the plot of The Nice Guys poses a couple of questions.  If you have an anti-hero as your main protagonist, does he or she have to change at the end?  And if the anti-hero still manages to do the right thing but doesn’t change or actually changes for the worse is he or she still the hero of the story?  I should mention that the fact I’m asking these questions makes me uneasy about this film.

Holland March, played by Ryan Gosling, is a successful licensed private detective of questionable ethics and dubious valor.  Mrs. Glenn, played by Lois Smith, is a half blind old lady who hires Holland to find her niece, Amelia Kuttner, played by Margaret Qualley.  The girl’s disappearance seems to tie into the apparent suicide of a porn star named Misty Mountains, played by Muriel Telio.  Unfortunately for Holland there are some powerful people who do not want Amelia found.

This is driven home for him by Jackson Healy, played by Russell Crowe, who is a thug for hire.  If you want someone to stop messing around with your thirteen year old daughter, Jackson will take care of it for you.  He specializes in those kinds of cases, but he has trouble looking at himself in the mirror.  When someone hires him to deter Holland from finding Amelia, Jackson’s methods are direct and effective, putting Holland’s left arm into a cast.  But Jackson looks at Holland’s nice house and begins to wonder about his future.

Things get complicated and soon they find themselves teamed up and mixed up in a complex plot involving the Department of Justice and the porn industry.

The first thing I should mention is that Crowe and Gosling both have pretty good comic timing.  Since they are probably not the first names that come up when considering who to cast for an action comedy, this counts as a revelation.  They also bring out the inner depths and motivations of their characters.  Both of them deserve praise.

The rest of the film is well acted too.  Angourie Rice plays Holly, Holland’s teenage daughter who is much more sensible than he is.  She does a great job as a kid who loves her dad but also sees his faults.

The film is a little too long.  I would have cut the dream sequence and a lot of the party scene.  But overall it is a pretty entertaining time. The plot has twists and turns that are genuinely surprising.  Most of the villains and minor characters are quirky and memorable.  It is an almost perfect movie.

Until we get to the last scene, the falling action, where it is apparent that these guys are not affected by what they’ve gone through or at least haven’t learned any lessons.  It’s a small scene and perhaps it’s just a miscalculation on the part of director and screenwriter Shane Black.  But Black is a pretty experienced hand at this point and I don’t think he’d make a mistake like that.  So he’s trying to make a point.

And for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is.

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