Director: Yann Demange
Talent: Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey
Released: 7 December
For every film that gets reviewed online and in print, there’s usually the casting of a unanimous sentiment over each film. Every so often however, there will be an imbalance, a polarising effect. As is the case here.
But first, the story of White Boy Rick. It goes as such: it’s the 1980s, Detroit, and there’s a crack epidemic. Illegal gun salesman Richard Wershe (played by a scene stealing Matthew McConaughey) is trying to make ends meet and raise a drug addict daughter and a son, Rick Jr (impressive newcomer Richie Merritt).
The father’s actions bring FBI attention and that attention gets turned on his streetwise son. Soon Rick Jr is an FBI informant by day and White Boy Rick by night, helping move guns and drugs for the local kingpin. Eventually he succumbs to the business completely and starts pushing large amounts of drugs away from the watchful eyes of his FBI cohorts. The film covers a period of four years from 1984-1987, the years White Boy Rick was aged just 14-17. Oh, and all of this is a true story.
And so, that polarising effect mentioned above. The general film critic’s consensus has been that this is a fairly grim film full of fairly shitty characters. And that’s accurate. But that doesn’t warrant marking it down. There’s a lot to enjoy.
Merritt does a good job looking considerably like the real deal and it’s fun watching him as his strut gets ever more confident and the number of chains around his neck multiples as his success rockets. But McConaughey is the one to watch here however, in fine form as both the emotionally overwrought father and conflicted bootlegger.
It’s also an absolutely fascinating story with an equally surprising and enraging finale. It’s absorbing stuff watching such a quiet geeky looking white kid more than handle himself in a predominantly African-American environment, all the while keeping his cool with the FBI harassment, made all the more absorbing when you know it’s all true.
Words: Shane O’Reilly