There is something undeniably brilliant about Shane Black’s filmmaking voice. His action sequences unfold with a vitality and an unpredictable energy that is so undeniably his own; just when you think the scene is going one way, it goes an entirely different way (there is no better example of this than the opening sequence where a kid steals his father’s porno mag and lusts after the centerfold model – only to have a car careen down an adjacent hill and crash through the house with said model dying inside). The movie just pops off the screen with visual flair, surprising comedic flourishes, crackerjack dialogue and an unmistakable enthusiasm for these hardened but heart-centered characters and the tragicomic world that they inhabit together.
That said, I cannot help but feel that the style really does take center stage over anything resembling real substance. It’s like the plot, the action and the characters all serve as a mere prop for the overall mood and tone of the movie.
Nowhere is this clearer than with the characterization of one of the titular “nice guys,” private detective Holland Arch (Ryan Gosling). Black sets up an entire back-story where Arch’s weakened smell failed to alert him to a severe gas leak in a former home and thereby led to a fire that killed his beloved wife; now, Arch spends his days in a drunken stupor, resigned to being a “bad person,” making empty promises to his frustrated daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) that they will one day rebuild their family home on the now-vacant lot where the original disaster occurred. It’s an incredibly convoluted set-up – one that not only lacks any kind of resolution (we never see Arch come to terms with his wife’s death or go through any kind of meaningful grieving process, nor do we see him ever truly grapple with the consequences of his own self-centered guilt complex), but also fails to reflect a genuine character flaw or imbalance (are we really supposed to fault Arch for not smelling a gas leak? Is this physiological deficiency supposed to somehow be symptomatic of a deeper moral failing?). Continue reading