The Nice Kid Steals the Show

Shane Black's latest film The Nice Guys may not be a classic on the same level as his first Lethal Weapon film, but it certainly is one of his better efforts. Black deftly directs the "odd couple" buddy-investigator action thriller, co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi and produced by Joel Silver. The two leads are excellent -- Russell Crowe as the brutal Jackson Healy and Ryan Gosling as the hard-drinking but often whimpering Holland March, both flawed human beings who in their hearts want to be better men. The true soul of the film is March's young daughter, Holly, played by Angourie Rice, who steals the show scene after scene.

Set in 1977, the period detective tale is loaded with comedy and action, but beneath the laughs and fisticuffs is a moral compass grounded by Holly.  While the kitschy set pieces, costumes, and props provide fun moments, the setting is more than just a gimmick -- the writers use elements of the era to serve the story well, such as the fuel crisis, the push to hold automobile manufacturers responsible for the impact their vehicles have on air pollution, and the post-Watergate disillusionment with political leaders. If you think that means The Nice Guys will be bogged down with serious, pretentious "messages," think again -- it's all a backdrop for an engaging character romp through a disco-era Los Angeles at the epoch of the adult cinema industry, with a poignant glimpse at the light and dark side of humanity through it all.

Gosling's character is a dad with good intentions, putting up a brave front and drifting to the bottle to numb his pain (both physical and emotional) as he tries to raise his daughter right. As Holly, Rice brings a maturity to the role, a wisdom often seen by kids her age who've been through hardships but haven't been broken yet, unlike the adults around them who have been beaten or corrupted by life. Yet she still displays hints of vulnerability.

At first it seems as if Holly will just serve as the stereotypical comic relief, or later the "child in distress" plot point, but the more screen time she has, the more we see her lead the narrative, giving it emotional weight through the choices she makes, the questions she asks, and the directions in which she pushes those around her.

If there is a Nice Guys 2 (and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing where these characters end up in a few years as the 70s become the 80s), Holly should once again be part of the triumvirate of protagonists. The cast for this film was impeccable, from the villains John Boy (Matt Bomer) and Blueface (Beau Knapp) to the missing Amelia (Margaret Qualley) who holds the key to the mystery of the apparent suicide of Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), which turns out to actually be the first in a series of murders. It's good to see familiar faces such as the excellent Kim Basinger as the more-than-she-seems District Attorney Judith Kuttner and "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" himself Gil Gerard as Bergen Paulsen, the head of a major car company.

Crowe's and Gosling's anti-heroes with their imperfections stick to a certain code each in his own way and in the end risk their own lives to do what's right. Holly drives them to those moments of redemption, and by doing so validates her own world view that despite the seediness, vices, and dangers seemingly everywhere she looks, there is hope for us all.


Zach Murphy said…
Great review. Holly definitely added another dimension to the film that the trailers didn't really hint at.

- Zach
Nick Leshi said…
Totally agree, Zach.
T-shirt bio said…
It's good to see Ryan Gosling in a different kind of role. I did not think he could be as funny.