The Best Original Neo-Noir in Years Still Deserves a Sequel
Ryan Gosling's Kennergy was showing long before Barbie.
Ryan Gosling has long been considered one of our best contemporary actors, but what enough people don’t consider is how funny he is. The truth of Gosling’s comedic talent is emerging with the release of Barbie, in which Gosling’s chaotic Kennergy has been unleashed on the big screen and throughout the press tour. It feels like a new era for Gosling, whose image has been wrapped up in stoic lone wolves and brooding romantic heroes. But, in truth, his funnyman era started years ago with a comedy gem, The Nice Guys.
The Nice Guys is a Shane Black buddy-comedy made very much in the style of a Shane Black buddy-comedy: it’s a seedy neo-noir set in Los Angeles around Christmas that centers on two very different men who are at each other’s throats whenever they’re not solving a mystery. Like most of Black’s movies, it rides or dies on the chemistry of its two leading men, in this case, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. And in this case, it rides so smoothly that you don’t want the ride to end.
It’s the ’70s, and Gosling is down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March, who’s hired to investigate the death of porn star Misty Mountains by her aunt. The investigation leads Holland to Jackson Healy (Crowe), an enforcer-for-hire who breaks Holland’s arm after Holland’s investigation takes him too close to Misty’s associate Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley). But Jackson gets intrigued by Holland’s case and decides to join him in uncovering a conspiracy which, you guessed it, goes all the way to the top.
The Nice Guys, co-written by Anthony Bagarozzi, is one of Black’s breeziest scripts, so chock full of zingers that barely a minute goes by without some kind of joke. There’s a rhythm to each wry one-liner like “Marriage is buying a house for someone you hate” and clever banter like “You took the lord’s name in vain!” “No, I didn’t. I found it very useful.” But The Nice Guys separates itself from the emptier Marvel zinger machines by being attuned to the actors delivering the lines.
Shane Black studied acting in college, which makes him particularly adept at catering his dialogue to each performer’s strengths. Conversations feel loose, quick, and comfortable, even as the violence around the banter grows gruesome and shocking. The Nice Guys wouldn’t be quite as funny without Jackson asking Gosling if his case has to do with the dead porn star, and Gosling earnestly clarifying, “The young lady. The porno young lady.” Nor would it be half as memorable without Gosling delivering hysterically high-pitched screams in several different keys.
The Nice Guys is the first movie in Gosling’s career to really unleash his gift for physical comedy — the bathroom stall gag remains his best comedic work to date — and allow him to be the manic, goofy counterpart to Crowe’s burly, soft-hearted tough guy. Their chemistry feels like the kind of cinematic magic that whole franchises have been built off of, which is why it’s a shame that one of the best original movies in years never got a sequel it actually deserved. Maybe now that Gosling is in his comedy era, he’ll find a way to revisit his greatest comedic performance.