My Favorite Movies of 2016 – Part 1: “The Nice Guys”

Content warning for a racial slur and commentary about sexual assault jokes.

Now THIS is how you do, “politically incorrect”.

“The Nice Guys” is the kind of movie that digs into the reprehensible (or at least the offensive) and finds levity and humanity within it all, using a mystery story set in the late 1970s to do so. Russel Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a person who gets money for services where he, well, beats people up and tells them to fuck off, basically. He then gets hired to do this to Holland March, a dopey single father/detective played by Ryan Gosling (who is hilarious in this) who is involved in a missing person’s case involving a grandmother’s daughter. Oh, and Holland’s young daughter, played by Angourine Rice, gets mixed up in all of this business, too. Add some blood, nudity, drugs and sleaze, and you have a mix for a movie that will offend and shock. But what makes this movie special is that unlike so many other artistic works that preach about, “telling it like it is” and being politically incorrect (this movie does have some racism, sexism and other bad things), this one is actually ABOUT something.

See, the central, “Missing Person” case unravels into something very complicated, something involving the American automobile industry, political corruption, environmental pollution, and porn. How it works those various topics together is a hoot to watch, with twists, turns and Writer/Co-Director Shane Black, working with Anthony Bagarozzi, providing some of the most quotable dialogue of the movie-going year. What seals it all is how both Jackson Healy and Holland March start out as a bunch of bemused guys poo-pooing the younger generation for caring about shit, only to gradually turn around and realize that they are onto something. Often, the notion of, “politically incorrect” involves the notion of not giving of shit about what other people think or feel, which…fine, be my guest. The problem lately is that the term is being used as an excuse to be shitty without a purpose. Sure, one can claim to be politically incorrect just to buck a status quo regarding politeness or whatever, but actually bucking a status quo means having self-awareness about where one stands in society, what benefits they get (or not), why people take them for granted, and also why you should shake those assumptions up. In other words, you are not the equivalent of Richard fucking Pryor just by calling someone the word, “nigger” or throwing rape jokes around. You have to care about something in order to actually affect someone when you do decide to be offensive. Otherwise you’re just an annoying prick.

And make no mistake, one of the characters, Jackson Healy, DOES care…eventually. He’s not exactly a good person, mind: he’s violent, he’s cold, and has no qualms about killing people in brutal ways (if nothing else, this movie should cement in your mind that you should not pick a fight with Russel Crowe). But he also has a backstory involving lost love and a general sense that the guy was just really dealt some rough cards in his life. None of that absolves what he does in the movie, but it gives dimension to a normally unsympathetic brute who, without the dopey contrast of his eventual partner Holland March, would’ve just been stuck in the same miserable psychological space where he uses his line of work to inflict pain on others because he can’t bring himself to do it to the one who betrayed him.

But special attention should be paid to the young girl played by Angourine Rice, Holly March. A person who is young, but quite perceptive. She gets involved in stuff she should not be involved with at her age, and yet through it all she maintains a level of lucidity and kindness. She is the movie’s secret weapon, a curious character who drives her drunk father around in a car, talks about adult things and even has a sense of what one would call, “Wise beyond her years” cynicism. But she also has an innocence that makes Jackson Healy turn around, kinda. She implores the adults in her life to, at the very least, try to be decent people, leading to a scene amongst the carnage of the last act that embodies the world-weary, yet hopeful moralism that the movie packs under its gritty, violent surface.

It also helps that there are so many great side characters played by good actors. I mean, holy shit, Keith David as a baddie hired by people trying to stop Healy and March’s investigation? Matt Boomer, that guy who was in the TV show, “Chuck”, as a hitman? There are just so many great side characters played by good actors who have practically been handed some of the sharpest movie dialogue in years, who would otherwise be little more than bland extras in a more conventional mystery movie. Everything about this movie, from top to bottom, feels like it was made with care yet it moves with great pacing and some well-directed action sequences that blur the line between a, “Laurel and Hardy” comedy and a very bloody cop movie.

“The Nice Guys” isn’t afraid to offend. It’s a story that has a lot of bad people with one major exception and manages to go into issues of environmentalism, political corruption and even sexual expression/free speech in ways that will bring chuckles at first and bitter laughs by the end (spoiler alert: the bad guys win). This is the kind of work that dipshits who THINK they’re following the example of the best episodes of, “South Park” wish they can make: a work that isn’t afraid to piss people off but actually has a reason for doing so beyond, “Nah, nah, I can say this and you can’t stop me! What are you TRIGGERED? Want your SAFE SPACE?” Fuck that tryhard bullshit. Political incorrectness, if people want it to survive beyond the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has to be used for reasons other than easy laughs or just trying to hurt people’s feelings, and this is a movie that shows you exactly how to do that. Check this movie out, preferably with friends.

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