19th Sep2018

‘White Boy Rick’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, RJ Cyler, Jonathan Majors, Eddie Marsan, Taylour Paige, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie, Raekwon Haynes, Ishmael Ali, James Howard, Kyanna Simone Simpson | Written by Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller | Directed by Yann Demange


White Boy Rick is the tough rugged and gritty gangster affair in typical conventional style, albeit endorsed with a series of fabulous performances with sufficient twists and turns that save this venture from becoming an average biopic of sorts. The film tells the real-life story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

Yann Demange’s film has a frighteningly chaotic and nightmarish story. It is bizarre and shocking as it unfolds in quite unbelievable circumstances that are incredibly engaging with the real-life horrors a true factor of appeal, albeit in a slightly nihilistic manner. It takes a few twists and turns that unfold, but unfortunately never quite captures the material or truly haunting topic at hand, and that’s down to a bloated and ineffective edit. Sequences are either trimmed far too early or excessively long, presumably due to Yann Demange struggling to comprehend what works and what doesn’t cinematically. A lot of material is crammed into the 116 minutes running time but looking at the sheer craziness of the true story itself, one can sympathise and accept the bloatation with wanting to honour the material available.

It has been Matthew McConaughey who has been plastered on much of the promotional material before release but on reflection, it is undoubtedly newcomer and fresh talent Richie Merritt who is the face and thunder of what makes White Boy Rick work. Considering that this is Merritt’s feature debut his performance is terrific. It is clear in the film however that he is still honing and adapting within his craft. He’s growing and evolving, ultimately with a few more credits under his belt, we will begin to see if there is longevity here and there are hints of something that could impact impressing ten-fold on his debut.

McConaughey takes a step back here and throughout White Boy Rick, he’s usually second or even third support behind, which understandably and the fault of the marketing, although again understandable for his fans may be slightly disappointing, but it thankfully allows the film to grow and breathe itself and not on the back of a star. Bel Powley also makes a strong impact on screen, arguably the star of the picture with an emotionally compelling portrayal of addiction incorporated into the film with slight eerie use of irony that reinforces the point of the innocent being the ones who are truly the victims of other peoples actions and tragic decisions.

White Boy Rick is in US cinemas now. It comes to the UK on December 7th.


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