A response to watching ‘The Nice Guys’ on NETFLIX.

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Fig. 1 The Nice Guys (2016)

‘The Nice Guys’ (Black, 2016) was a very enjoyable film starring Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling (fig.1). The two star as LA private detectives Jackson Healy and Holland March, who stumble upon each other through the same case, the disappearance and murder of several people involved in a PORNO- cum- Anti-corruption film.  The subject matter is very classically a Hollywood murder mystery. It involves dead bodies, murder, Hollywood parties, gun fights, fast cars, corruption in the police and Law department, and flawed (but contrasting) lawmen, all accompanied by cliched ‘Starsky and Hutch’ 70’s music.

It specifically resembles the film L.A Confidential, and both film’s star Russel Crowe (reprising his role as a tough guy cop who struggles with his temper) and Kim Basinger; but it’s not a traditional working of the murder genre, such as in Dirty Harry, or LA Confidential.

The film has elements of both the spoof (mocking imitation of someone or something, usually light and good-humored  (Dictionary.com,  2017)) and pastiche (a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources(Dictionary.com, 2017). The atmosphere is usually relaxed and mildly comic (even in the dramatic scenes), occasionally slapstick, but there are poignant interludes, such as that following the murder of Amelia Kuttner, who the two private eyes were supposed to be protecting.

The film satirises the many clichés found in violent USA murder whodonnit’s.  Perhaps this can be thought of as a type of deconstruction of the usual discourse and tropes provided by the traditional genre.  From a constructionist point of view these traditional films are often built upon paradigmatic binary pairs, with airplay given exclusively to the dominant trope (which thus becomes a cliché).

Sometimes the film highlight’s the alternative discourse through characters; Russel Crowe’s traditional Private investigator Jackson Healy (tough, street-savvy, but down on his luck) is contrasted with the hapless unconventional Holland, who is  followed around by his teenage daughter (who solves most of the clues for both PI’s), has no sense of smell (it is suggested that his former house burnt down and killed his wife, because he could not smell the gas leak), and discovers the body of one victim by falling down a hill and landing on top of it!   The Nice Guys’ somewhat ambivalently fulfil the usual characteristic of bravery. They show courage and valour in the shootout at Holland’s house when they battle with the hitman ‘doctor’, but they act like cowards when they arrive at the top floor of the hotel and hear bullets flying in the corridor- swiftly returning to the ground floor in the lift.

Sometimes the alternative discourse is part of the narrative, and looks oddly absurd, though it ironically represents a more reliable reality. For example, in the film’s shooting scene at the party, guns often go off accidentally, and usually kill the wrong people, and when Holland finally saves the important  film canister from near the wreckage of a burning car he has to use his jacket to protect his hand after discovering the canister was very hot!

Occasionally the dominant paradigm is not deconstructed by presenting the opposite of the usual binary pair, but just mocked, and thus refuted. In the cliched 70’s hippy protest about city air quality, the protestors feign death on the steps of a government building.  Holland thinks the missing girl Emelia may be present and asks ‘which one of you’s Emilia ?’ several times. Eventually one protestor says ‘….we can’t answer -were all dead!’ and when Holland later treads on one of their hands by mistake she say’s ‘Hey that hurt!’ to which he responds ‘ I thought you were dead !’ This is slapstick humour, and makes us cynically question the whole basis  of the ‘student/young person demo’ .

Later the guys attempt to pay off a young boy who they meet near the burnt- out house where the Porno-cum-Protest’ film was made.  The usual Hollywood tip-off by a youngster would be followed by a ‘thanks mister’ or something reverential, thus emphasising the power and heroism of the cop or PI.  The Nice Guys pay the kid who has some quality information on the Porno film, but the kid’s so self-confident that he appears to think he might make it as a porn star and asks them ‘Do you wanna see my cock?’

In another incident Holland helps to lampoon the All-American Hollywood film idea of the big sister having her boyfriend over to ‘make out’ and chucking out the little sister. When Holland’s daughter’s friend say’s this has happened, he says ‘she’s such a slut’ and little sis replies ‘yes I know’, offering an alternative view of the situation.

Kim Basinger plays a very senior police official who, it transpires, is corrupt, and is behind the murders, even that of her own daughter. This is a little unusual- corrupt powerful law enforcement characters are usually male- (think ‘Where the sidewalk ends’ (1950), ‘Bad Lieutenant’ (1992) and ‘Copland’ (1997) (Taste of Cinema, 2015). This is a straight replacement of a woman in a role traditionally taken by a man eg. Replacing male with female from the male:female couplet. It may reflect a feminist discourse, but Basinger plays Judih Kuttner, whose name is too close to the well- known- expletive- slang term for the female genitals for comfort, and suggests she is a figure to be ridiculed not admired; she is after all a criminal.

At the end of the film the corrupt Judith escapes justice and jail. Interestingly, here the naïve Holland seems to understand that evasion of justice does happen sometimes, and helps Jackson put things in perspective (they have after all, he says, solved their first case jointly, and he has photocopied some flyers for their new joint detective agency-although Jackson is said to look unfortunately like a Mexican on them!).

Illustrations

Fig. 1  The Nice Guys  (2016) [movie poster] available online at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3799694/ [accessed 31st July 2017]

References

Black, S. The Nice Guys (2016) Warner Bros Pictures. USA.

Dictionary.com (2017) Definition of spoof [online at] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/spoof [accessed 31st July 2017]

Dictionary.com (2017) Definition of pastiche [online] at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/pastiche [accessed 31st July 2017]

Harbour, E. Taste of cinema (2015) [online] at http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/15-great-movies-about-police-corruption-that-are-worth-watching/ [accessed 31st July 2017]

 

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Author: PhilHepArt

This site contains my BLOG for my Open College of the Art's module 'Understanding Visual Culture'. I am currently on Level 1 of the degree pathway BA Painting.

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