White Boy Rick

 

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A fictional tale that lacks the qualities needed for a telling personal drama.


White Boy Rick

Richie Merritt with Matthew McConaughey

 

Like many another film, this one declares at the start that it is based on a true story, but not all such stories are well suited to being told on the screen. If the life of Richard Wershe Jnr had been narrated in book form with an emphasis on facts and setting, it might well have gripped the reader. However, when portrayed in the cinema by actors, it becomes a major stumbling block that none of the people involved arouses any real sympathy. Despite the usual disclaimer admitting that some details have been freely dramatised, it does seem that most of what we see here is close to the real facts, but that doesn't in itself make the film effective.

 

Although the top billing goes to Matthew McConaughey, he is really playing a supporting role, that of the father of the film's titular character who, a youth of fourteen when we first see him, is very much screen centre. Richard Wershe Jnr is living with his father in Detroit and dad, a hustler who has sold guns illegally, encourages the youth to follow his example. This leads Rick into the company of the Curry family who despite his colour readily accept this white boy in their midst and he soon follows their example in dealing drugs. More surprising is what the Currys don't know: Rick has been taken on by the FBI as an informant regardless of the fact that they are acting illegally in employing somebody so young.

 

What White Boy Rick doesn't do is to cover the earlier family history showing the parents divorcing when Rick was six although when he talks to his drug-addicted sister Dawn (Bel Powley) reference is made to     some good days in their childhood. Just possibly a glimpse of a happier existence being lost could have aroused sympathy but, as portrayed here, none of the family arouses our pity. The corrupt behaviour of the police renders Rick a victim of sorts but, after his role as informant ends, he, even more than his father, relishes the excitement of a life dealing drugs.

 

Unprepossessing as Rick is, it is just possible that a charismatic young actor could have made his history riveting. However, the screenplay never helps to bring this about and newcomer Richie Merritt in the title role lacks any real distinction. Furthermore, a very promising supporting cast are wasted, although Powley makes some impact and Jennifer Jason Leigh's FBI agent is as competently presented as one would expect. Rather surprisingly Eddie Marsan turns up for what is virtually a non-existent role and Rick's grandparents are played by those fine veterans Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie - it's a sad waste of such talented players. Similarly, the director, Yann Demange who made an impact in 2014 with '71, is handicapped by the unappealing material. Ultimately, the failure of White Boy Rick to impress must be laid at the door of the writers and their inability to make us care - or perhaps they should have recognised that this particular story told as a personalised tale lacked the possibility of achieving that.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bryan Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, RJ Cyler, Jonathan Majors, Eddie Marsan, Taylour Paige, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie.

 

Dir Yann Demange, Pro Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, John Lesher, Julie York and Jeff Robinov, Screenplay Andy Weiss, Logan Miller and Noah Miller, Ph Tat Radcliffe, Pro Des Stefania Cella, Ed Chris Wyatt, Music Max Richter, Costumes Amy Westcott.

 

LBI Productions/Protozoa Pictures/Studio 8-Sony Pictures Releasing.
111 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 7 December 2018. Cert. 15.