The story follows Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a drunk private eye, who is hired to look into the apparent suicide of Misty Mountains, the infamous porn star who was “on the way up” before her death. March’s investigation eventually leads him to a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who is frightened by his persistence. Amelia hires Jack Healy (Russell Crowe), an intimidator for hire, to scare March away. After being attacked, however, Healy believes that Amelia may be next. For Amelia’s safety, he teams up with March to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings around town. Together the duo begins investigating. They come across information about an “experimental film” that both Amelia and Misty were involved in. From there, March and Healy enter a party along with Holly (Angourie Rice), who tagged along without her father’s knowledge, to get more information. The story quickly escalates from there as Amelia is found, along with dead bodies, and news of a big boss, John Boy. March and Healy continue looking with help from Holly and as they go deeper into the conspiracy, corruption, murder, and toxic relationships are revealed.
The film is inspired by the book Blue Murder by Brett Halliday and was almost a television series on CBS. After determining that a TV series was not the right direction, the idea was reworked into a film and then fixed time and time again. After several reworks within the writing stages, being passed off between Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, undergoing character changes, and eventually turning into a period piece, which ultimately stuck, the film was on its way. During filming, the production design team utilized specific locations in Atlanta, Georgia to fit the 1970s Los Angeles criteria. A notable aspect of this film is the fun 70s soundtrack filled with songs such as “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey, “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind, & Fire, and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes, giving it an extra layer of excitement and silliness. The combination of the production design, script, cinematography (done by Philippe Rousselot, a cinematographer who worked in the 70s), and the soundtrack gives the film the extra push to make it feel as if it came out of the 70s.
The relationship between Gosling and Crowe on-screen as March and Healy respectively is what carries the comedic elements in this film. Banter and sarcasm are at the film's roots and it creates a space for the duo to generate layered jokes and call-backs throughout the film. Russell Crowe delivers and stands out as audiences have never really seen him fully embrace a comedic role like this before. Similarly, Gosling, renowned for his roles in award-winning dramas, goes into this role with an attitude and humor that breathes life into his character. While the comedy is prevalent and strong, the emotional elements in the film are not something to skim over. March and Holly have a past experience that looms over their heads for most of the film, ultimately making their bond extremely compelling and lovely. Similarly, Healy has a backstory that builds his character, adds emotional depth, and forms the way he carries himself. The emotional elements, while strong, do not overpower the comedy as jokes, dry humor, and stupidity roar loud in this movie and make the film extremely entertaining.
Holly is truly the heart of the film. Angourie Rice delivers a truly compelling performance as Holly that is not only filled with heart but is hilarious. Rice’s performance checks all the bases needed for playing a daughter in a buddy action movie. Holly is clearly written with a purpose and is meant to be the anchor of the film, the person who keeps Healy and March in check. She garners sympathy from Healy as a young girl with a terrible father but is also protected and loved by her father. Holly is also responsible for protecting her father as she acts more mature than March and looks out for him when he is drunk (which is quite often). March, while a terrible person and a terrible father, is always in support of Holly even if it is from afar and Holly does the same in return. Holly and March’s relationship is undeniably sweet, but it is also extremely comical as oftentimes, she is more qualified as a parent than he is.
This dark comedy twists and turns but also highlights serious issues such as corruption, exploitation, and dangerous relationships. While handling some heavy topics, it never takes itself too seriously. Things are kept light-hearted through and through while still addressing these issues. March and Healy are never tasked with fixing the broken systems or screwed-up world they are living in, they just want to get to the bottom of the mystery and eventually succeed in their P.I. businesses.
Action scenes keep the pace moving quickly with simple fight scenes that reflect March’s cowardice at times and Healy’s reluctance but also love for fighting. To add, Gosling's physical humor is not something to miss either as he is seen twitching, stumbling, falling down hills, and drunkenly investigating. Action adds to the excitement and humor keeps the audience laughing, making this film a thrill ride that can’t help but be enjoyed.
Written by Marli Dorn