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“White Boy Rick” a True Story





Review by John Delia

Kind of a heart breaker, yet one can’t help thinking that it’s also self-deprecating. The movie White Boy Rick puts on a tour de force display of acting and directing in this unusual crime drama. Showing at least three sides to the true story, Director Yann Demange spreads the dialogue around involving family, gangs and the law. If it were a lesson to be learned, it would have been a welcomed script, but it’s not.

The film based on a real person, Rick Wershe Jr (Richie Merritt), who starting at the age of 15 chooses a life of crime. His failure to fit into society had a lot to do with his chosen track and having a reprobate father, Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), made it easy for him. The film opens with a good example of what helped Rick take the street smart way of life.

Richie Merritt (White Boy Rick, right) and Matthew McConaughey (Richard Wershe Sr.) star in Columbia Pictures’ and Studio 8’s WHITE BOY RICK.

At a gun show, Rick is talking to a salesman about wanting an AK47 assault rifle. He gets into a positive conversation with the seller who’s looking like he has a buyer on the line. Richard, who happens to be a car trunk gun salesman, walks up to the table and stands there for a moment and then cuts in offering the seller half the cost of what he is asking for the gun. When he balks at the offer and with Rick standing off to the side, Richard’s gives the man an ultimatum revealing to him that he was selling a gun to an underage boy.

With that scene in mind, the movie plays out with Rick hanging out with the wrong crowd, stays out late nights at a local Skate Roll rink, ditches school and frequents a black street gang led by Johnny ‘Lil Man’ Curry (Jonathan Majors). When Johnny takes Rick under his wing he names him White Boy Rick. Staking out the gang are two FBI agents, Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Byrd (Rory Cochrane) and third lawman, Detroit Detective Jackson (Brian Tyree Henry). They are trying to get a lead on drug trafficking and are suspicious of Johnny Curry. Seeing a white boy frequenting the all black gang, the three decide to solicit help from him.

(l to r) “White Boy Rick” (Richie Merritt), FBI Agent Alex Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and FBI Agent Frank Byrd (Rory Cochrane) discuss their plans in Columbia Pictures’ and Studio 8’s WHITE BOY RICK.

Rick gets approached by the trio of officers and asks him to help them identify several men they suspect are involved in drug dealing. Living in a home with an illegal gun dealer for a father, Dawn (Bel Powley) a sister who is a part-time prostitute on drugs and with very little money, Rick makes a deal with the FBI. Director Yann Demange who had limited luck with his British release ’71, takes on the high profile movie gaining much needed hype from actors Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh and cameos from Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie. In addition producer involvement from Darren Aronofsky adds to the production in that department.

(l to r) “Lil Man” (Jonathan Majors), Cathy (Taylour Paige), “White Boy Rick” Richie Merritt, “Boo” (RJ Cyler) and “Big Man” (YG), in Las Vegas for a boxing fight in Columbia Pictures’ and Studio 8’s WHITE BOY RICK.

But what Demange accomplishes most is excellent performances by his actors who put their characters through the paces. The film features a role made for Matthew McConaughey. As Rick’s father he’s a dreamer with no sense of his family’s needs within his financial means. He sees himself in Rick and takes chances with the boy’s life direction. He’s weak when it comes to his daughter not being able to understand her downward spiral, drug dependency and need for sexual contact. And, his parents (played by Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie with heartfelt performances), who live next door, are on their last legs and still being used by their son. The part could not have been better cast as McConaughey nails the role and should be on the list for an Oscar bid.

(l to r) “Boo” (RJ Cyler), “White Boy Rick” (Richie Merritt), “Big Man” (YG), and “Lil Man” (Jonathan Majors) negotiate for guns in Columbia Pictures’ and Studio 8’s WHITE BOY RICK

As Rick, newcomer Richie Merritt puts on a good show in spite of the fact that he has had no acting experience. It’s a risky choice for the role of a tough kid who falls into a life of crime and although he seems to give it his all, I couldn’t feel for his character. Growing up in a Detroit suburb, the streets are hard and risky. Assimilating into the bowls of drugs and other crimes would have been a tough thing to do for a black kid, let alone someone not of their color. Some scenes call for the character to approach houses that sell drugs in a sketchy neighborhood in the middle of the night, attending a house party as a stranger to most, and hanging out at a roller rink. Without a real learned “street” personality and actually experiencing life in the ghetto, that even the most knowledgeable actor could hardly portray Rick and it come across too nonchalant here. A bit too much “Hollywood”, but that aside Merritt gives it a good shot.

The best performance comes from Bel Powley and tops her bold acting in the Diary of a Teenage Girl. Before further ado however, let me say that as Minnie in Diary, a breakthrough role in which she daringly plays an underage teen who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend, she mesmerized audiences in disbelief. Here she shows how young Dawn looks like a nasty self-serving brat on drugs that flees her father’s home for an attempted life as a prostitute. It’s brilliant and I can see more good roles ahead for her.

White Boy Rick has been rated R for language throughout, drug content, violence, some sexual references, and brief nudity. There’s a scene where a group of boys use their handguns to shoot rats living in a tire. Be cautious when deciding to allow immature teens see the film as some scenes are very inappropriate.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A well-made film that’s overly exaggerated. (3 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast:  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
Directed by: Yann Demange
Genre: Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug content, violence, some sexual references, and brief nudity
Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.
Opening Date: September 14, 2018
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Released in: Standard

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