When looking at art there is a natural tendency to try to shoehorn it into different categories based off of several prominent traits that the work of art exhibits, in film the most common classification is genre. While genre is just supposed to make it easier to describe the film in question, there seems to be positive and negative stigmas around certain genres in regard to if they are lowbrow or highbrow art. Film noir is often described as one of the fundamental genres of film providing classics such as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, or Double Indemnity. In comparison, while similar to the noir genre in terms of story content, the buddy cop film with staples such as 48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon, or Men in Black are scoffed at by most film scholars as anything more than “just a fun to watch movie.” The praise inherently given to noir’s seems perverse, as more often than not, the buddy cop film is an original idea while the noir is usually an adaptation from a novel. While the noir genre remains at a low in terms of production in the current Hollywood landscape, last year the buddy cop genre added another staple to their list with the release of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. At times indulging in motifs of the noir genre, The Nice Guys legitimizes the role of the buddy cop genre in film history by following many of the same conventions often associated with scholarly films.
Within the first ten minutes of the film, The Nice Guys displays to the audience several common tropes in the noir genre such as a mysterious death of a pretty girl, the day-to-day life of a private investigator, and heavy frustrated narration by one of the film’s protagonist. If your HBO Go froze because of Internet issues in these first few minutes, you would walk away from the film with the belief that it is a straight noir minus the dark ally ways. For those that power through their internet troubles, The Nice Guys serious tones dissipate as the film starts to play around with the inherent humor of its characters and indulges in over the top comedy. By transitioning the film from dramatic to comedic, the writer, Shane Black, is able to captivate the serious film going audience early on in the story by giving them the idea they are going to watch something “meaningful,” and by the time they start to realize the comedic elements are going to surpass the limited dark tones early on, they are too engaged in the story to care. If this bait and switch was the real heart of The Nice Guys it would be difficult to argue that the film is more than just a sham hiding its true identity, yet that is not the case, as the film provides the audience with something they are starved of, originality properly written.
As noted by last years box office returns, originality is not important to audiences as seven of the ten highest grossing films last year were based off of previously existing material. Largely, the reason in which audiences are not watching original content anymore is because film writers lack the talent required to get audiences interested in worlds or characters that they have never seen before. While in books, an author can spend a chapter describing the novel’s central protagonist, exposition in film can never be too direct and must be told in a much more compressed amount of time. This is where the true merit of The Nice Guys shines among its peers, while anyone can inject noir motifs into the first act relegating the film to just that would be criminal. If the audience does not care about the character, world, or story once the film shifts into its comedic tones, they will not remain engaged after they realize they were duped unless they really care about the plot. In this first act Black sets the stage for where the story will take place by giving the audience sweeping views of the location and fills it with characters that the audience is easily able to understand because of how well he introduces them through quick several second vignettes of previous jobs the protagonists have worked. Through these vignettes the intricacies of the characters are highlighted and by the inciting incident the audience already knows whom they are watching on screen. The meticulous effort to structure carries over into the rest of the film as the audience sees the characters behave in ways that are expected, yet different enough in order for them to subtly transition over the course of the narrative in an organic way. In addition to what was written on the page, the action scene direction from Black and the onscreen performances by Crowe and Gosling contribute to making sure that any dull moments needed in the film for additional exposition are ironed out to maintain audience engagement.
While some may argue that at times the film struggles with fitting into a concrete genre early on, it is evident that Black understood his film would never be herald as a great film because of its buddy cop connections and in order to entice audiences it must dabble in a more serious tone. Even with the self-awareness to try to mask it’s buddy cop roots, The Nice Guys could not fool the audience to generate enough good word mouth as in the United States the film lost fourteen million and is only slightly positive when you take into account foreign markets. Now that the film is available on HBO, audiences may be more willing to take a risk and watch the film and come to the realization that The Nice Guys is one of the more solid films of 2016, as it truly understands how to deliver originality to the audience
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