White Boy Rick - 2018
Director(s): Yann Demange
Writer(s): Andy Weiss, Logan Miller and Noah Miller
Cinematography by: Larry Blanford
Editor(s): Tat Radcliffe
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, RJ Cyler, Jonathan Majors, Rory Cochrane, Piper Laurie and Bruce Dern
If you pay close attention to our current entertainment culture, or if you just stare at a screen long enough, you will notice the obsession Hollywood has with the 1980s. From TV shows that draw “inspiration” from movies of that decade (Stranger Things), to movies that despite being set in present day have a “80’s esthetic” to them (It Follows). So naturally screenwriters will start to mine any interesting or compelling “true story” pitch they can muster that so happens to be set in that decade. Last year’s American Made, this year’s upcoming The Front Runner and, of course, White Boy Rick.
The story centers around Richard Wersher Jr., or, as he was known on the streets, White Boy Rick. He was a Detroit street hustler, an FBI informant and a drug kingpin all before he turned sixteen. Now that sounds like a hell of an elevator pitch to a story that is far more complicated and unbelievable. I bet that in real life it was just that, but this script just treats it as a matter of fact. When we meet Rick, he is already a hustler - no context, no evolution. He becomes friends with the nephew of the local drug kingpin and immediately becomes part of the crew. We never fully understand the crew - the script doesn’t take time to flush out the characters that he would eventually betray - they are just there for us to understand he is in the drug game now. The father is a gun hustler, the sister is a junkie and the FBI wants him. There are things in the story that are just left hanging in the wind without deep diving into the consequences and the motivations.
There are a lot of missed opportunities for big character moments or for us to identify with Rick, but he is just along for the ride just like us. He is told to sell guns, told to sell drugs, told to be an informant, and he does all of them with little to no hesitation. Outside of wanting to have money and not be broke like his father, I don’t identify with his choices at all. And by the end, when the movie tries to tie it up in an emotional bow you really don’t care at all. Sadly.
Quick note: the pacing of the story weighs heavily on the runtime. It covers the span of three years and it feels like I was in the theater for that amount of time.
Now despite all the flaws from this movie and all the missed opportunities, the one constant throughout is the magnetic performance from McConaughey as Richard Wershe Sr. He embodied that character, from the way he walked to the way he shifted his face and mouth as he spoke, leading to a performance that made you truly believe he is this low-life trying to do right by his family. There are two key scenes that stand out to me: the first one, him sitting alone in the car after his son was shot – he doesn’t say a single word yet you hear his entire inner monologue through his body language and his eyes, welled up with tears. Second, when he is delivering the lines that are spoiled in the trailers, telling Rick what he saw when he first looked into his eyes the day he was born. The rest of the cast is solid, and Richie Merrit as the titular role holds his own whenever he had to share the screen with McConaughey.
White Boy Rick is a true story that is better served through the medium of documentary. Hearing the story from the man that lived it would’ve been far more compelling and nuanced than seeing it unfold with little to no conflict or twist. Despite boasting an incredible performance from McConaughey, the movie leaves a lot to be desired as it under serves both the characters and events that felt promising based on the elevator pitch. I would recommend either reading the story or looking for the documentary if the story intrigues you, since this movie won’t give you what you are looking for. McConaughey is why I love movies.
White Boy Rick is currently playing in theaters. Wait for it to hit Netflix.
If you like this review let me know in the comment section down below. Subscribe to my newsletter so you are always up to date with all my reviews. Also, follow me over at Twitter (@yILovemovies) or over on Facebook if you want to have a conversation about movies.