The film is worth your time. You won’t emerge a better person, but there are some laughs, some excellent performances and nostalgia for “The Rockford Files”. That’s a pretty good deal, I’d say.
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are two men stumbling down mean streets in the ever-more-confusing and gritty (thanks to the pollution, both literal and metaphorical) world of 1970s Los Angeles. Gosling is Holland March , a mostly useless private eye whose wife died because of his ineptitude, raising a sassy (of course) daughter who is probably already smarter than him. Crowe, reprising his LA Confidential role of 20 years previously, is Jackson Healy, a thug who knows it but wants better of himself. They bumble, as you do, into a conspiracy involving the government, pornography, auto-makers and some missing dames.
The director is Shane Black, he of the Lethal Weapon films. Given that this is another of those films about films (about films), part of the pleasure is spotting references. It starts with a Brian De Palma “Blow Out” riff and the pace keeps up. Black isn’t above referencing himself. especially the first Lethal Weapon (a widower in LA misfittedly teaming up with another bloke to crack a conspiracy. The film starts with a naked woman, and the investigation leads to a burnt out house, where a passing child gives them a vital clue. Only we live in less innocent times, and this one – a mid-teen at best – boasts about his penis size. Etc). There’s a very funny riff on the two-guys-falling-into-a-swimming-pool from LW2, but that would be a spoiler).
As well as porno films, there are nods to blaxploitation, the paranoid thrillers of the 70s by Alan Pakula (Klute, Three Days of the Condor and especially The Parallax View). There are explicit references to when Hollywood jumped the shark (Jaws 2) . It brings to mind all those films about LA as dreamland and nightmare, a thriving sub-genre all the way from William Holden dead in the pool but narrating, through to Chinatown, Who Framed Rogber Rabbit, the aforementioned LA Confidential (which was as sumptuous as this is clapped out), Hail Caesar! and the recent and brilliantly unsettling Nightcrawler (my review here).
Black doesn’t stick to films – clearly loved the Rockford Files, the 70s TV show starring the late James Garner. I spotted three nods – the gun in the cookie jar, the price of $200 plus expenses, and the newspaper adverts that Marchhas for his services.
What’s interesting (sort of) is just how much the actions of various women (not just the hilarious old lady who hires March) drive the plot. Far beyond just passing the Bechdel test, this movie has the men are reactive, trying to keep up and cover up. This is true not just of the daughter, but also Kim Basinger (though to be honest, she can’t move her face these days; Russell Crowe gets to be fat and old, but still gets cast, eh #SmashthePatriarchy) and the missing and annoying but ultimately ‘right’ Amelia.
I won’t “spoil” the plot, but suffice to say it makes you look at the question of air pollution and corporate strategy in an interesting new light Check out Penna and Geels, 2012. The de-dramatising strategies here are quite, well, dramatic.
The films 20 minutes too long (the shoot-outs become a bit labored), and the end is never in doubt. Jake Gittes gets to have a rueful laugh about it all, rather than the gut-punch that Polanski gave you, but that’s not the end of the world.