When I saw the trailer for this film and saw that Shane Black was behind it (the same guy who wrote/directed the excellent and deliciously tongue-in-cheek Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) I was already on-board with the whole thing. With two terrific lead actors taking the helm in the form of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe and the fact that they were sending up the whole 70s suave detective sub-genre it only solidified the whole deal. So imagine my surprise when I ventured to the theatre to see the film and… well…
IT WAS GREAT! Gotcha!
The plot concerns the death of a porn star named Misty Mountains although a relative of hers is claiming to have seen her alive a few days after she supposedly passed away. Hot on the heels of a person of interest known as Amelia (Margaret Qualley) are private detective and boozehound Holland March (Ryan Gosling) along with muscle-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who don’t necessarily get along but they each bring something unique to the table. While Holland deals with his precocious daughter (Angourie Rice), Jackson is something of an even-tempered guy until the situation gets intense. At the same time, they must avoid other people who are also after Amelia for their own nefarious reasons. I will stop there so as to not give away any major plot details.
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are wonderful together in a magical pairing that no one could have saw coming. While one would imagine that Crowe would play the old, cantankerous side of the duo it is actually Gosling’s life that is moreso in the dumper and quite frankly… he is not a suave 1970s detective caricature. I can only think of a particular scene in the bathroom where Gosling juggles between trying to keep the door open and keep his privates covered all while aiming a gun at Crowe, who didn’t even make any threats of violence. Ryan does a LOT of physical humour here and proves to be quite adept at this sort of thing. Crowe is the calmer center even though he has outbursts of violence but his life seems to be a bit more in line and he is able to control himself. The rest of the cast takes a major backseat to the two leads and that may even be a minor flaw but it’s unavoidable when you have talent of this caliber. Beau Knapp and Keith David are pretty funny as a couple of thugs while Matt Bomer is impressive as a cold and calculating villain. Angourie Rice is one of those rare child actors who can play precocious and isn’t annoying at the same time. Kim Basinger shows up in a quick but pivotal role but really doesn’t do much other than serving the plot.
The strength in this film lies in the writing, the humour and the overall tone of the film. The dialogue is pretty snappy but what I really liked about it mostly is its unpredictable nature. Not everything happens as you expect it to happen based on this genre. Things don’t go correctly, not every little plot point is neatly wrapped with a little bow and it also isn’t quite as dark as the trailers would maybe lead you to believe. It is hard to list examples without being spoilerific but one moment that made me laugh out loud is when one character seemingly makes the dramatic save with a pot of coffee launched at the villain’s face only to find out that it’s cold and doesn’t have any effect. Also, consider a scene in which one character actually goes back to an old vice that they had kicked for so long and are congratulated for it by someone else (see how I have to be so vague?).
Action is a big part of this film as well even if I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as an action movie, per se. The set pieces are big and exciting, particularly the big finale taking place at a Detroit auto show. There are tons of stunts, shooting, blood and overall craziness as the film rushes toward the big finale. Kudos to Gosling as well in some scenes because you can actually tell that he had to have done some of those stunts on his own, which is showing some real committment to the role.
I would say to go in expecting a big, fun but also very clever and well-written summer film that will entertain you from start to finish. Not every character will be electrifying but you will relish every moment that Crowe and Gosling are on-screen.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)