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Review: White Boy Rick (TIFF 2018)

White Boy Rick (TIFF 2018)
7 10

 

PLOT: The story of Richard Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt) aka White Boy Rick, a street hustler and informant who became a drug kingpin while barely in his teens.

REVIEW: WHITE BOY RICK makes for an interesting companion piece to another of this year’s TIFF entries, BEAUTIFUL BOY. If that film depicted the agony of addiction, this one depicts the experience of those caught-up in dealing and explores the fact that reality is rarely as black and white as lawmakers might have us believe.

 

Strongly critical of the War on Drugs, WHITE BOY RICK never for a second pretends that Wershe isn’t guilty, but it does attempt to make you empathize with him somewhat and makes for a pretty damning case against the mandatory minimum sentences that have decimated countless families and communities.

Without too much moralizing though, the question remains, how does WHITE BOY RICK stack up as a film? A movie like this can be a tough one for a place like TIFF as it goes head-to-head with the best of the best and I’m not sure it’s quite on-par with the better movies playing here, even if, in its own right, it’s a solid piece of work.

Yann Demange follows up his underrated ’71 by richly evoking the depressed inner-city Detroit of the mid-eighties. It’s a sneaky film in that the first half is your basic criminal epic, playing Wershe’s come-up through the drug world as a non-stop party, while treating the FBI agents running him, who are shown here to be the ones initially encouraging him to deal in order to give him street-level bonafides for being an informant, as vultures. They’re played without an ounce of sympathy by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, and Brian Tyree Henry.

Here, we’re invited to revel in the criminal world as Wershe does, with the trips to Vegas, the non-stop parties and sex and the excitement of making money hand over fist. The film turns on a dime mid way through and becomes a grimmer, tragic tale as Rick starts to sink deeper into the life and Demange’s approach is appropriately cinematic, boasting an awesome eighties soundtrack and crisp visuals.

The cast is top-shelf, with newcomer Richie Merritt arresting as the hard-headed but street-wise Rick. He evokes some sense of innocence without playing him as a total victim and he’s easy to sympathize with. In some ways, Matthew McConaughey has the trickier part, playing his ne’er do-well dad, a gun dealer who, despite his insane recklessness, does indeed care about his kids, including Rick and his crack-addict daughter (a strong Bel Powley). McConaughey initially plays the mulleted trash dad for laughs, but eventually works some real heft into the part and it's a strong performance that could be best supporting actor caliber. Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie, and Rick’s grandparents, are mostly used as comic relief, something needed as the film goes on.

If WHITE BOY RICK has a failing its that even at 122 minutes, you tend to zip through his career pretty quickly and his stature as a dealer seems to be under-represented in an effort to make him more sympathetic, which they didn’t need to do. In the end, it’s a solid film that, while not among the best films of the fall fest circuit, is quite good in its own right and certainly food for thought.


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Source: JoBlo.com

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