#REVIEW: “WHITE BOY RICK”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
In the mid 1980s, the Wershes are not living a glamorous life. Richard Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) wants to open a chain of video stores, but is stuck selling guns and illegal silencers. Richard’s daughter Dawn (Bel Powley) is a drug addict who just moved in with her abusive boyfriend, and Richard’s son Ricky Jr. (Richie Merritt) is stuck helping his Dad sell the guns. As Ricky starts hanging out with local dealers and crooks, he gains a taste for the lifestyle and ends up crossing paths with the FBI, where they force him into assisting with their investigations.
White Boy Rick premiered a few weeks ago at Telluride before landing at TIFF last week. And for the most part, Director Yann Demange’s sophomore feature is a compelling watch. He paints the Film with a dreadful gray haze to reflect the state of Detroit at the time this true story was happening – only letting in the neon hued lights of the 1980s in the film’s fleetingly happy moments. Demange’s gritty aesthetic lends the film an authentic and lived in feel that never dissipates. Also of note is the script by Andy Weiss, Logan Miller and Noah Miller which drops us into the middle of an on-going story and does it’s best to not feel like every moment is totally embellished and inaccurate.
But the major problem with White Boy Rick lies solely with the editing and pacing. From the on-set, Demange sets the Film up to be slowly-filtered and gradually build into something akin to Goodfellas. And indeed, the first half of the Film follows that trajectory (albeit with less energy and enthusiasm than Scorsese’s legendary Gangster Saga). But after the Film hits a specific turning point event midway through, it falls flat on its face and is unable to get up and keep moving to the finish line. This does not make the Film any less engaging, but it does take away from how interesting it is. And as the Film drags through its second half, I began caring substantially less about the characters and where they ended up.
While White Boy Rick itself is uneven, the performances are strong across the board. Bowley shines as the junkie Dawn and McConaughey delivers another solid performance, continuing his late career resurgence. Small supporting turns from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, RJ Cyler, Eddie Marsan, Bruce Dern and more are all underdeveloped yet well done nonetheless. But they are all overshadowed by the absolutely incredible and revelatory work by Merritt. He commands the screen and takes us on the journey of the titular character, cocksure and full of swagger. Some of his dialogue is unintelligible, but his expressions and mannerisms more than make up for it. His enthusiasm for the part is the spark the Film relies on to not become completely boring and trivial.
I had high hopes for White Boy Rick, especially after watching that electric Trailer multiple times. And while the performances are top notch, the storyline and structure fall far from greatness. It is compelling almost the entire way through, but the disappointing slog of a second half nearly derails the entire film. But Merritt’s terrific performance is more than enough reason to stick through it.
Sony Pictures Canada release WHITE BOY RICK in theatres Friday, September 14, 2018.