This movie was a nice surprise, a detective buddy comedy that feels fresh mostly because of the stellar work by its two stars (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling), who are not typically associated with the comedy but turn out to have a major, previously untapped talent for it. Throw in a sleazy, noirish 1970s Los Angeles setting, slapstick, sarcasm, raunchy dialogue, darkly humorous and surreal touches, and the results are highly entertaining.
The film starts with a car crash and death of a porn star, who was then glimpsed by her elderly relative walking around alive and well, or so she claims. The old lady hires a private detective Holland March (Gosling), who is something of a loser and an erratic single father to a teenage daughter (who, in the best movie traditions of precocious teenage daughters to hopeless fathers, is sharp as a tack and is the movie’s moral centre, but not obnoxiously so). His investigations lead him to Amelia, a young girl who has gone missing and seems to be tied up with a wrong kind of people, and is a subject of interest to Jackson Healey (Crowe), a detective-slash-enforcer for hire. Crowe’s presence here brings back memories of LA Confidential, another noir classic where he also played a world-weary character with a brutal side – especially when he gets a sort of reunion with Kim Bassinger, appearing here as a politician and the mother of Amelia. After a rocky start involving some physical violence, the two detectives reluctantly agree to team up and get to the bottom of the mystery.
While the story has plenty of twists and turns, the movie’s main pleasures lie in watching the interactions and chemistry of the mismatched duo; Crowe and Gosling are not the actors I would have thought of as a natural pairing, but they work off each other brilliantly. Gosling especially is a comical revelation, and manages to make his screw-up of a character inherently loveable. The movie does a neat job mixing slapstick and one-liners with violence and is full of great this-is-so-wrong-but-so-funny moments. I love me some gallows humour. Something else I always appreciate is a strong sense of place in a film, and here it creates a palpable atmosphere of a sultry, corrupt 70s Los Angeles – probably heightened and exaggerated for the effect but who cares, give me more of those fabulous 70s clothes and awesomely hideous wallpapers.