Every so often a film is released that, through no fault of its own, is criminally overlooked by the mainstream. Instead, its quality manages to secure it a place in the hearts of a select few. We know this type of movie as a cult film, and there are many stellar examples that fall into this categorisation: The Thing, The Lost Boys, Ghost World, Inherent Vice, the list is endless.
Often, these cuts are passed up because their themes may be too complex to propel into blockbuster status, or because their style might be adverse to whatever is the norm at that point in time. Or, on other occasions, they get forgotten for no reason at all.
The most recent circumstance can be attributed to one of the finest cult films of all time: 2016’s The Nice Guys. It is a total mystery (no pun intended) how the project was publicly disregarded upon release when, as we reflect on the Shane Black directed picture some years later, it’s hard to find any fault at all.
Combining a surreal Thomas Pynchon-esque tale with that of a Raymond Chandler mystery, you could argue that the film exists in the same realm as Inherent Vice, The Big Lebowski and Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It shares a very similar spirit to director Shane Black’s 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, leaving a burning desire for the filmmaker to hopefully return to the story once more in the future.
Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the film follows Ryan Gosling’s hapless private eye Holland March, who teams up with Russell Crowe’s hard-nosed enforcer Jackson Healy to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl.
The storyline explores themes of the day, such as the corruption of the automobile industry, the porn industry and the justice department. It expertly blends beautiful cinematography with a riveting script. By taking cues from Brett Halliday’s novel Blue Murder, Black created a mystery that felt refreshing whilst also managing to pay homage to the detective stories of old.
Gosling and Crowe are outstanding, and their onscreen chemistry was unexpected, but it worked. Each provided a foil to the other, and one would argue that this was the best onscreen partnership we’ve seen in years. This, of course, is another reason why hopes linger that Black could one day return with a sequel, as the Gosling/Crowe partnership makes for stellar viewing. There are flecks of Riggs and Murtaugh in there, as well as White and Exley and even Ness and Malone, pulling in elements from iconic duos from before their time.
The supporting cast is also wonderful, and it is they who ballast the entire picture, helping to bring Black’s colourful world to life. There are star turns from Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Hannibal Buress, Jack Kilmer, Kim Basinger, and Black’s old Kiss Kiss Bang Bang buddy, Robert Downey Jr., who is uncredited.
It’s confounding how The Nice Guys wasn’t more of a success upon its initial release but, in reality, that doesn’t matter. It’s a true cult film and we’ll be talking about it for years to come. We just hope that one day Shane Black returns to this world, as there’s so much more to explore.