MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Shane Black. Starring Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe.
The Nice Guys is a thoroughly entertaining movie that gets its DNA from the action comedies of the ’80s with a nostalgic look backwards to the excessive lifestyle of the ’70s. Director and co-writer Shane Black wrote the original screenplays for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, so he knows the genre.
Setting this mystery in the swinging Seventies creates a world of corruption and depravity amidst the bright lights, color and music of the era – a perfect world in which to tell a twisted story that involves a somewhat dimwitted and mediocre private eye (Gosling), and a goon for hire (Crowe) who join forces to investigate the death of a porn star.
Sure, it’s sleazy. But it’s also very funny; it’s probably one of the best times that I’ve had at the movies this year. Good writing, comic timing and the chemistry between Gosling and Crowe (who have both played menacing roles with conviction) create a film that is full of surprises and many laughs along the way. The Nice Guys has a storyline that refuses to make much sense and moves between Detroit and LA as if they were nearby cities (we never visit an airport).
It helps that the film is self aware of its stupidity. Here’s a short dialogue between Holland March (the P.I.) and Jackson Healy (the enforcer) towards the end of the movie, commenting on what’s happened on screen. “Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.” “People got hurt.” “I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.”
One of the best characters in the movie is Holly, Holland’s 13-year-old daughter, who serves as his secretary and sometimes driver. She may be somewhat naïve but she has a strong moral conscience. It’s a star-making performance from 15-year-old Australian actor Angorie Rice.
What’s the message here? The film is a satirical reminder about the hedonism of the Seventies that in many ways changed the moral landscape of America forever. Pornography (for a short season) became mainstream and played in large theaters in major cities. Recreational drug use was considered hip. Cynicism about politics and law enforcement became commonplace following the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate Hearings.
This decade might have been a time when the church would confront the emptiness of consumerism and capitalism and replace those spaces with the mystery and awe of a loving and grace-filled God. What actually happened? Religion spent more time judging and blaming the sins of the era. Christian faith was quickly co-opted by special interest groups that would use it to push back against culture rather than seek real transformation.
The Nice Guys is smart enough to create a comic film noir that, in its own wacky way, shines a light into the darkness. Into this deep, dark hole of despair two inept detectives attempt to get to the truth; they almost get there. It’s a start.
Two halos: Amid the high body count and the depravity of 1970s Los Angeles there is a moral conscience at work in this entertaining movie.
Four pitchforks: Violence, nudity, drugs, kidnapping, murder, swearing, and all of the stuff you’d expect in an R-rated action comedy.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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