The Nice Guys: Good Booze, Bad Crimes, and Ugly Detective Work

In the late 1980s, a screenwriter hit the scene who would become a big hit fast in Hollywood: Shane Black. Beginning his career with Lethal Weapon, his scripts displayed well-crafted characters and stories shown on the screen and fun, punchy prose when read on the page. That writing would serve as the fuel for such films as The Monster SquadThe Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Of course, writing is not all that he does. In recent years, Shane Black has turned his creative eye towards directing in addition to screenwriting. Now, taking the helm in both screenwriting and directing, he first grabbed people’s attention with his neo-noir comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. After that, he got to make his mark within the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man 3, telling a tale of Tony Stark having to take on the threat of a terrorist leader known as the Mandarin. Now, Shane Black has returned to theaters once more. This time, he returns to the realm of the neo-noir, taking audiences back to 1970s Los Angeles for a story of mixed-up crimes and mismatched allies. Demonstrating his knack for strong characters and evocative narratives, Shane Black’s latest work is a film known as The Nice Guys.

Jackson Healy is a hired enforcer, willing to beat anyone down for the right price and living a Spartan life in an apartment above the Comedy Store. Holland March is a down-on-his-luck private detective, spending his days scamming old ladies of their money and drinking alcohol at any time while his daughter reminds him to do his job. Both men end up teaming up when their cases become intertwined, with Healy hired to protect a girl named Amelia and March on the case of a porn actress seen seemingly alive just days after she had died. Though their styles may clash, the two men find themselves managing to gain piece after piece of the puzzle. However, the puzzle grows larger and larger, seeming to suggest a criminal conspiracy and the existence of a porn film that reveals its truth. Now, both men find their lives threatened as the dark forces of the L.A. underbelly seek to silence them for good, even as they still try to make heads or tails of just what is really happening around here.

Once again, Shane Black delivers on another fun and engaging film. Like his earlier film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he takes a crack at the world of film noir with a sideways glance. Plenty of the classic film noir elements are on display here: night-time locals, femme fatales, corruption, murder. However, much of the grave seriousness is met with dashes of subversion and laughs. For instance, the classic trick of punching through a glass window to unlock a door is met with the subversive reality of a surprise cut and a trip to the hospital. There is a femme fatale who enters into the story, only for a detective to be so deluded by desire with her that he refuses to accept her rottenness, even when she reveals that she has killed multiple times before. Even a film noir hero’s knack to keep on walking after taking a rough beating gets acknowledged with an action sequence that pushes the usual action hits to a cartoonish degree. Shane Black even plays around with much of the world and culture of the 1970s, with the concerns over “killer bees” being a constant background detail and a hitman named John Boy baring a resemblance to the character of the same name from The Waltons. Of course, those are not the only notable aspects of Black’s writing. The main thing to discuss is that important component of characters.

Among many of Shane Black’s stories, a frequent element he uses is that of the dual protagonists. Two characters, when paired up against each other, can offer an engaging story based upon how they operate around each other and how their experiences together shape them. For instance, Lethal Weapon has the classic pair of Roger Murtaugh (a by-the-book cop with a wife and kids) and Martin Riggs (a cop with effective combat skills and suicidal tendencies). Though both men are as different as can be, they end up working together and grow as people even as they take on the criminal element. A similar situation is on display in The Nice Guys with Jackson Healy and Holland March. These two men would seem to be quite different, what with Healy being a cold veteran who will use his muscle to finish a job and March bumbling his way around the clues in a drunken haze and whimpering at the sight of danger. However, both men are actually united in a common point: feelings of failure. They both feel both bound to their mistakes, with Healy feeling like hurting people is all he can do while March stews in a bad past he tries to avoid confronting with his constant drinking. They view themselves as bad men but, as they work on their combined case and seek the truth, they’ll come to see that they aren’t quite as bad as they seem.

Shane Black’s writing skills have allowed him to craft good movies time and again. Ever since his writing debut with Lethal Weapon, he has demonstrated his ability to craft sotires that feature not only good plots and fun action sequences, but also memorable characters with engaging development to them. The Nice Guys is his latest work to show that, offering a fun neo-noir with a great pair of lead characters.


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