New release falls short, despite stellar performances by Matthew McConaughey and Richie Merritt
White Boy Rick, a riveting film set in 1980s Detroit, is stylized and well-acted, but was dampened by its uneven pacing and convoluted storyline.
White Boy Rick tells the true story of Richard “Rick” Wershe Jr., a 14-year-old FBI informant-turned-drug dealer. Rick, played by newcomer Richie Merritt, lives in a completely dysfunctional family. His father, Richard Wershe Sr. (played by Matthew McConaughey), is an arms dealer who dreams of opening a video store; his sister (played by Bel Powley) wrestles with drug addiction. Rick is no stranger to crime, so the FBI decides to use him as an informant in their war on drugs. With such a premise, things can only go wrong—and boy do they.
What really makes the film is its colourful main characters. For one, Rick’s father is completely erratic. Less than five minutes into the movie, he chases his daughter’s boyfriend at gunpoint while fighting with his parents who live across the street. However, there is nuance to his character. Yes, he sells guns out of the trunk of his car, but Wershe Sr. isn’t just another lowly outlaw. He does what he does so his children can have a better life than he did. He is a father first, a hustler second. McConaughey is perfect for the role. Rocking a mullet, he impeccably juggles the comical dialogue and emotional scenes.
Wershe Sr.’s son and the titular character is just as interesting. Rick tackles everything that life throws at him head-on and with the nonchalant confidence—or stupidity, depending on who you ask—of a teenager who’s on top of his world. Merritt delivers a compelling first performance. He matches McConaughey in some hilarious back-and-forth dialogue which is no easy feat.
Max Richter’s soundtrack is also worth mentioning. The music—or lack thereof in some dramatic scenes—really helps set the atmosphere and compliments whatever is on screen.
Where the movie ultimately falls short is in its screenplay. The film is dense, too dense. There are so many things happening that the story becomes too convoluted for its own good. The audience doesn’t have time to truly appreciate an event before it’s on to the next act. This problem may stem from the fact that the story is about true events, limiting the director’s choice.
Regardless, the movie ends up seeming more like a succession of events rather than a testament to the intricate storyline. Everything happens too quickly; the audience doesn’t have the chance to get invested in the story. Overall, the movie is entertaining, but it fails to really connect with the viewer.
In the end, White Boy Rick is perhaps a bit too ambitious in terms of what it can cram into its runtime, but the performances and aesthetics make it worth the asking price. It balances humour and drama, and it makes for a good time at the theatre.
White Boy Rick is currently screening at the Cineplex Odeon Forum and other select theatres.