Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a down-on-his-luck private eye in 1977 Los Angeles. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a hired enforcer who hurts people for a living. Fate turns them into unlikely partners after a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) mysteriously disappears. Healy and March soon learn the hard way that other dangerous people are also looking for Amelia. Their investigation leads to some dark places as anyone else who gets involved in the case seems to wind up dead.
Another one from my list of most anticipated films of 2016. After watching the trailers, it’s pretty easy to figure out why. It seemed to have the right amount of action, drama, and comedy. I also couldn’t think of any more unlikely pairing than Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling which made the film intriguing to me. The fact that the screenwriter of the Lethal Weapon series and also the writer and director of 2 recent gems Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, Shane Black, is the writer and director of this one, was the proverbial cherry on top.
The first thing you’ll notice is the authenticity in its depiction of the 1970s. There was definitely a lot of attention to detail here in its portrayal of 1977 Los Angeles which made everything nice to look at and fun to watch, making you feel part of it. The film continued with this early on in how it established its two main characters, March (Gosling) and Healy (Crowe). March is an ethically-challenged, almost slimy bordering on cowardly private eye. Healy is a more brutish, hard-nosed, enforcer whose sole purpose is to beat people up. Crowe, but especially Gosling, excelled at this with Crowe looking good beating people up and Gosling’s mastery of the physical comedy associated with March’s sliminess.
Whether or not the film succeeds depends on the relationship between Healy and March and it exceeded all expectation here. It seemed like Crowe and Gosling were having fun here which made us have fun with them. They were both great individually but their chemistry with one another was even better which made their scenes extremely fun to watch. Most of these scenes would involve them getting themselves in trouble, going from sticky situation to sticky situation. These situations were usually defused by a great balance of action and comedy with both actors surprisingly excelling at both. The comedy was not only reserved for these sequences, however, as scenes with just Healy and March are hilarious as well. This continues in scenes involving March’s daughter named Holly (Angourie Rice). She was a surprise addition to the Healy-March dynamic and fit in just fine having moments of her own.
What emphasized all of this was the smart, well-written script. The dialog was smart, engaging, and very funny with jokes rarely failing. As I mentioned before, the script contained characters in Healy and March who worked to the actors’ strengths with Crowe portraying Healy’s brutish personality and dry wit and Gosling portraying March’s sliminess and almost cowardice. Since Healy fulfilled the necessary macho-ness, this allowed March to be the crazier one which meant a lot more physical comedy and slapstick with the best being a scene involving a bathroom stall. Gosling was just excellent at this, bringing a lot of laughs and often stealing scenes. The film was full of quotable lines and moments which people will remember long after seeing it.
The story, on paper, isn’t too original or exciting but is told with such style that it often felt secondary to the setting and the characters. Since you are focusing on Healy and March, it’s easy to forget what they were doing. The story still was kind of interesting as along with trying to locate Amelia (Qualley), they must uncover a wide-reaching conspiracy. Although the plot itself is straightforward, there is still a lot going on in the meantime making the journey a little less straightforward. Sure, it probably could have dropped some of these subplots to streamline things a little but it was fine either way. The film also featured a great villain named John Boy (Matt Bomer) who was interesting and fun to watch but the film never really gave him much of a chance.
Overall, this is a smart, funny but mostly entertaining action movie led by great performances by Crowe and Gosling.