Watching the detectives

Shane Black, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling on The Nice Guys in New York

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe - The Nice Guys
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe - The Nice Guys Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2 writer and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 director, Shane Black, sees Farewell, My Lovely, directed by Dick Richards, starring Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling, Arthur Penn's Night Moves with Gene Hackman and Alan J. Pakula's Klute, starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, as inspiration for his Nice Guys, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe dressed by Kym Barrett. Crowe finds Stanley Kubrick's The Killing "still works today" and remarks how Quentin Tarantino uses its "fractured timeline" so well. Gosling grew up with Arthur Lubin's Hold That Ghost and Charles Barton's Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein and deems Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad, co-written by Black, worth quoting.

Ryan Gosling: "I grew up on Abbott and Costello movies."
Ryan Gosling: "I grew up on Abbott and Costello movies." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Producer Joel Silver, with Matt Bomer (recently cast as Montgomery Clift in Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias and Christopher Lovick's Monty Clift biopic), Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Shane Black hosted a screening of Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Nice Guys at Metrograph in advance of the film's World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Black's detective comedy noir, a successful blend of nostalgia and invention, banks on linking the most absurd ingredients to great effect. Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, who lets his fist speak first when it comes to catching predators. Ryan Gosling's private detective Holland March is less punchy, with his arm in a cast, and relies on his special unique kind of charm.

The rented house (with an empty pool and gracious, avocado-tinted wallpaper) he shares with his 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice - a name to watch out for), a brave girl who doesn't condone hogwash, neither from her girlfriends, nor from the ever changing array of adults around her.

There is a bad guy with blue paint on his face, like Jean-Paul Belmondo in Pierrot Le Fou, because he couldn't resist temptation, and another one called John-Boy (Matt Bomer), the last in a line of Waltons breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the film. What exactly are the detectives looking for? A girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) disappeared. No, not the one flying across the Pacific. Her mother Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) is the head of the Department of Justice.

Joel Silver, Matt Bomer, Shane Black, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe
Joel Silver, Matt Bomer, Shane Black, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Gosling and Crowe are wondrous sparring partners. The verbal punches outshine all others with dialogue as crisp as a biscuit and delivered to splendid effect by these nice guys in rumpled suits with pointy lapels.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you have a favourite detective movie when you were little?

Shane Black: Yeah, actually when I was little, I used to love a strange thing for a kid to love. It was a movie called Farewell, My Lovely with Robert Mitchum. It was the first time that I've been exposed to Raymond Chandler and his Philip Marlowe character. Because I hadn't seen The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart. I fell in love with the voice of it.

Then I went back and investigated other detectives. In the Seventies there was Klute, there was Night Moves - all these great movies. Not so many anymore, which is why I'm very happy to be able to usher in some kind of a more recent private eye manifestation. You got the best actors in the world to play these roles. I'm very happy.

Shane Black: " In the Seventies there was Klute, there was Night Moves - all these great movies."
Shane Black: " In the Seventies there was Klute, there was Night Moves - all these great movies." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Any favorite teams that inspired this one?

SB: We've channelled so many in this movie. People say, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello. I like to think it's a thriller first and a comedy second. But we'll find out. All I can hope is that we have a foothold against the superheroes this summer. They have capes, we have rumpled suits. I'm really pleased with the movie. I think it's one of the best things Joel [Silver] and I have done.

AKT: You are heading to Cannes right after this.

SB: Yeah, we're going to hop a flight and take it international. See what we can do.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you have a favourite detective movie early on?

Russell Crowe: Hmm. Did I have a favorite detective movie? Well, I had a favorite noir film. The Killing. Stanley Kubrick movie. It still works today. It's short, it's punchy. It has that sort of fractured timeline, that Tarantino, for example, has used so well. And it's so surprising when you see that and realise that the film was made in the early Fifties. And it has so much punch to it.

Russell Crowe: "I had a favorite noir film. The Killing."
Russell Crowe: "I had a favorite noir film. The Killing." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In The Nice Guys, Crowe gets quite punchy himself.

RC: I love Shane's dialogue. Sometimes when you talk in terms of good writing, the dialogue is so naturalistic. That's not what I'm talking about. The dialogue is so helpful to the characterisation. He gives little hooks all the way along that you can use to communicate information to the audience that they were not necessarily going to get unless you realise that hook is there. As for the director, I like being on the set with Shane. Although he is the writer, he is not precious about what he has written. He doesn't see it as biblical.

His attitude is that he trusts the actors that he has hired and is really excited when you take a left step because he understands our job is pretty specific and it's also kind of binary. You can either do this shit or you can't do it. When he's got a room full of people who can do it, he trusts in the fact that we will stay in the spirit of what he intended. And that gives us so much space and so much freedom. So you end up having these fun days where you feel like you're jumping off cliffs together all day. So the days were adrenalised.

Matt Bomer is John-Boy in The Nice Guys
Matt Bomer is John-Boy in The Nice Guys Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Shane's a complex man but he is a very kind man. So is Joel Silver. So is Ryan. You end up having this great vibe on the set because everybody is so focused on what they're doing and every individual is passionate about film. They are cineasts. So if Ryan is jamming on something and he makes a reference in the movie, whether it's to Harold Lloyd or Lou Costello, or whether it's to Gene Wilder, then he is actually making that reference. He is very smart and comes to the job with so much passion. It's a wonderful environment for me to be in.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you have a favorite detective team growing up? Anyone you really liked?

Ryan Gosling: You know, I grew up on Abbott and Costello movies. Hold That Ghost or the Frankenstein film, maybe they fancied themselves detectives. But I didn't really watch detective films growing up. I kind of watched them for this because Shane gave me a list.

Russell Crowe on Ryan Gosling: "He is very smart and comes to the job with so much passion."
Russell Crowe on Ryan Gosling: "He is very smart and comes to the job with so much passion." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Nice Guys has a distinct take on the genre.

RG: It was fun. I got to do a lot of physical comedy … I grew up on his [Shane Black's] films. His Monster Squad was the first film I ever quoted, probably. He is like a master of the genre of noir but he also knows how to subvert it. He knows what the audience is expecting. He knows how to surprise them and deliver what they want.

He is always trying to watch out for clichés to either use them or spin them in some way. It's fun to work with someone like that because you never know how the day is going to go. He always keeps it fresh for the actors and for the audience.

The Nice Guys will screen at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday, May 15.

The Nice Guys opens in the US on May 20 and in the UK on June 3.

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