Directed by Shane Black and co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi, ‘The Nice Guys’ is a buddy cop action-comedy that follows two private detectives — Holland March and Jackson Healy — in search of a missing girl named Amelia. As the mismatched pair encounters a few thugs on the way to digging deep, they discover that the case of the missing girl is somehow related to the mysterious death of a porn star, who is also associated with the death of a few other people. They realize that this case is bigger than it seems, and soon, the “nice guys’ embark upon a mission to uncover a murder conspiracy.
The 2016 movie stars Ryan Gosling as private investigator Holland March and Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy, who isn’t actually a PI but wishes to be one, in the lead, along with Margaret Qualley as Amelia. The funny crime thriller, which traverses the adult film industry, the automotive industry, and the US justice system, while providing a heavy dose of entertainment, must make many viewers question its veracity to real life. In case you’re wondering whether the narrative of ‘The Nice Guys’ is rooted in reality, we’ve got your back. Here’s everything you need to know.
Is The Nice Guys a True Story?
No, ‘The Nice Guys’ is not based on a true story. Neither the narrative nor the lead characters of March and Healy are inspired by true events or people; they are all products of a fictional script penned by director Shane Black, along with co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi. In an exclusive interview with GQ, Black mentioned that the story of the detective duo came about because of Bagarozzi and his love for detective stories. As far as the primary inspiration behind the movie’s core is concerned, Black credited mystery and western writer Brett Halliday, who wrote under the pen name David Dresser.
In conversation with Screen Crush, Black specifically said, “…in one of his books called ‘Blue Murder’ there was a clue that I saw like 10 years ago, and it just said, ‘A porno film where the important part is the plot.’ That’s it. It’s not like there’s a whole movie there, that was it. But I called up the granddaughter, Chloe, and I said, ‘Listen, can I steal a clue from you? Not steal, I’ll pay for it.'” Interestingly, ‘The Nice Guys’ gives “special thanks” to Brett Halliday at the end of the credits.
In an interview with Variety, Bagarozzi talked about the writing process, saying, “We each took a character and started writing and then we switched back and forth until we had a plot. I started with Jackson Healy, but it got to the point where we don’t know who wrote what.” He further elaborated that the purpose of giving the story an ironic title — ‘The Nice Guys’ — was to con the audience. “You know they’re two not-very-nice guys. One breaks arms for a living and the other cons old ladies out of money. It was literally the two worst people that we could think of and then trying to make that fun,” he added.
The first draft of the script was written in 2001. While the witty lines, humor, and story of ‘The Nice Guys’ certainly received appreciation from the audience, Black revealed that no one showed interest in the script when they wrote it as a feature. But when Black and Bagarozzi re-wrote the script into a television pilot and approached CBS, it received an objection, as the network was “egregiously offended by even the most minor edginess,” Black said.
Later, they decided to change the movie’s setting to the 1970s, which perfectly set up the tone for the plot in an era of “hippie culture” and automobile development. When asked about his decision to choose the City of Angels as the setting of the neo-noir comedy, Black said that the works of two of his favorite noir authors, Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler, prepared him “for what was to be the promised land.” He added, “…the era of The Nice Guys really emphasized to me the dime-store chic of L.A. It was like a fading beauty queen with a tattered gown still trying to parade nightly across the sky.”
He elaborated on the setting in an interview with Indie Wire. “I just felt there was an exuberance to the ’70s. They were a different time. Instead of all this divisiveness that we see now, it was the aftermath of the protests and you got a sense that we are all in it together. TV was all about multiculturalism, even ‘Sesame Street.’ It really was the playing out of how eclectic, inclusive and diverse the ’70s were. It was made to forge this ecstatic celebration of the oneness. I didn’t want to make a glum movie,” the director said.
Interestingly, it was Bagarozzi who suggested the change in the setting; the idea was backed by Black’s producer friend Joel Silver after he produced the successful 2009 film ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ As far as the characterization is concerned, unlike other classic buddy cop movies — where the protagonists’ personalities are strikingly different — March and Healy’s personalities have a lot in common. They are equally skilled and flawed, and the funny partnership adds to their chemistry.
When asked about the drive behind the imperfect lead characters, Black told GQ, “I love the notion of the feckless sort of knight in tarnished armor who would love to fill the shoes of the legendary hero but just can’t. And then find a moment when they do. And I love the idea that there’s a myth waiting for each of us to occupy.” Talking about casting Gosling and Crowe as the notorious crime-solving duo, Black said that within a day of reading the script, Gosling was instantly ready to come aboard the ship.
As per the director, Gosling said, “I think this is what I want to do.” After Gosling’s agreement, it just took days before the makers could lock their leading duo. Elaborating on the casting of Crowe, Black said, “Russell, who was basically ready to turn me down, said, ‘Wait a minute, Gosling wants to do this?’ And, so, within three days, literally 72 hours, it came together after 13 years of complete inactivity. Which was sort of mind-bending, the way things happen.”
Therefore, after over a decade of dormancy, it just took three days for everything to fall in place for Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi. And together, the duo concocted a fictional story of two relatable flawed detectives that’s equal parts serious neo-noir drama and equal parts buddy action comedy. Therefore, though not based on real events, it is understandable why many would think ‘The Nice Guys’ is based on a true story.
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