One of the strangest quirks in Hollywood is how central screenwriters are to the success of a film, and yet how little credit they seem to get in the wider world.
Directors go down in history. Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola (both), Bigelow, the Coens, Nolan etc are often big enough names to draw crowds to their pictures whatever the plot.
But how often do you hear someone down the pub say ‘I want to check out the new film written by Aaron Sorkin’, ‘What’s Nancy Myers done lately?’ or ‘Did I hear Brian Helgeland has written something?’
For me, the moment I hear there’s a script out there with Shane Black on the byline is the moment my ears prick up and I’m already mentally planning when to see it.
That’s exactly how I felt when I saw the first trailer for The Nice Guys, Black’s latest writing/directing combo (and his first since Iron Man 3….yup).
He first apparently came to my attention in 2005 with his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a neo-noir that is without a doubt one of the most inventive, original and hilarious pictures of the 21st Century – and is directly responsible for resurrecting Robert Downey Jr’s Hollywood career, however you feel about that.
I say apparently because after watching it, I checked Black out and realised he wrote the first two Lethal Weapon films as well as The Last Action Hero, a film that never gets enough credit. And yet if you’d said Lethal Weapon to me beforehand, I wouldn’t have had a clue who wrote it.
So with that in mind, I went into The Nice Guys with high expectations. The film doesn’t actually quite live up to them, but there’s more than enough there to make it one of the best of 2016.
Black’s calling card is his razor sharp dialogue, and his fascination with private detective stories makes for a perfect setting for his talents.
The titular Nice Guys are Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as a down-on-his-luck PI Holland March and emotionally damaged ‘enforcer’ Jackson Healy respectively.
Crowe hasn’t had as much fun in years and Gosling is a delight as the clumsy and hapless hero whose desperate attempts to come across as tough and professional become incredibly endearing.
The plot is straightforward enough – the pair are searching for the same missing girl on separate cases and team up once they realise it’s in their common interest (and once Healy breaks March’s arm).
In true noir style the tale becomes complicated via a variety of spanners in the works, from dead porn stars to the Detroit motor industry and the Department of Justice.
Although the eventual plot resolution is a little too wacky, and heavy handed on its environmental message, the journey to get there is typical Black brilliance.
There are so many laughs to be had through the pair’s efforts questioning suspects and persons of interest in their case, particularly when the danger begins to escalate around them.
But the real star of the show is Angourie Rice as March’s 13-year-old daughter Holly, who provides the perfect foil to our detectives – giving the morally-questionable March inspiration to be a better man and Healy someone to connect with again.
Black is the kind of writer who can make discussions about the inner workings of the English language hilarious (and stuff), so he has little trouble here making the most of Gosling and Crowe’s already proven comedy chops.
It’s not Black’s masterpiece, but it’s more than enough to remember his name.