ONCE UPON A TIME IN LA IN THE 70S
By Pablo A. Tariman
It’s not all the time that you want to watch a movie to be astounded and to be deeply impressed and wanting to go home with some so-called “moral lessons” safely tucked in your “moral compass.”
In your movie-reviewing chore, you cheer the critically acclaimed ones, including the four-hour, 8-hour masterpieces but there are times in your movie-going moments when you realize movies are there not just to give away morsels of wisdom. You don’t expect so-called masterpieces all the time (but glad they materialize when you need redemption from a movie landscape drowning in “kilig” (romantic thrill) formulas.
Truth to tell, one watches a movie just to have a dose of good clean fun and hoping the rest of the movie isn’t as badly done before you come face to face with the movie credits.
And then here comes “The Nice Guys” and the fun begins even before you can figure out what the endless street-chase scenes are all about.
The starring Oscar best actor awardee Russel Crowe (Gladiator) and Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (Half Nelsen) is riding on its lead actors to pull off the magic and to a large extent, they succeed.
Crowe is Jackson Healy, a law enforcer with a tendency to knock down uncooperative protagonists while Gosling is Holland March, a private detective whose competence you doubt with his tendency to gurgle bourbon at noon.
The two figure in a lot of crime scenes, gun fights and what looks like late night orgies set in the 70s.
March has a 13-year old daughter (Angourie Rice) who is smart but shares his father’s occassional combat clumsiness. Believe it or not, the three achieve unpredictable rapport all the way.
In the first thirty minutes, you are in the dark as to what the fuss is all about ( they are looking for a cannister with a porn film with s-called devastating political message) while you get riled by a character who was supposed to have died but is presumed to be alive as one talkative kin swore she saw her jump out of the window right after that accident.
The other charm of this film is that it is set in the 70s in the threshold of the so-called sexual and spiritual awakening.
Like it or not, the 70s-time frame of this dark comedy is akin to Manila in the early 80s when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, poverty was rampant and peopled enjoyed the censorship-free adult movies at the Film Center.
True enough, the film is set when John F, Kennedy just died, rallies were all over America and watching porn is accepted as a way of life.
In one scene, the character of Gosling is wheeled out of the hospital by a nun with a saintly face and the dialogue goes:
Nun: At this point in your life, are you looking for God young man? (Or something to this effect)
Man: Nope, I am looking for a million ($).
It is absurd enough that the the so-called porn star (or her double) insists that her porn movies are artistic stuff and she should take hold of it by hook or by crook.
While in search of the missing Very Important Daughter (s), Crowe and Gosling come upon a boy on a bike and the dialogue ensues.
Kid on Bike: 20 bucks man! Or you can blow. You guys want to see my dick?
Gosling: No kid we don’t want to see your dick.
And then the shocked detective has a car monologue wondering why kids his age had the temerity to talk like that.
Midway through the film, you get to ride in the film’s suspense and comedy outing and find yourself enjoying immensely.
But somewhere in the movie, you wonder why Hollywood action pictures (with distinguished Filipino extras at some point) can’t get rid of gunfire-riddled chase to make its mark.
But at some point, you enjoy Gosling’s brilliant improvisations like his funny silent scream scene face to face with a rotting cadaver.
Shane Black’s direction brought out the best of Gosling, Crowe and Rice and the rest of the distinguished members of the supporting cast.
In terms of rapport, the effervescent Crowe-Gosling duo is reminiscent of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” with the adventurous partners in crime played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
In this film, director Shane captured another world in another time with their own blistering lingo, indeed surreal but rooted in reality from downtown LA to the Manila of our ever loyal city in the late 60s to the 70s.
“The Nice Guys” is now showing in cinemas.