White Boy Rick

Release: Friday, September 14, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Andy Weiss; Noah and Logan Miller

Directed by: Yann Demange

In his piece for the New York Observer, the innately likable Rex Reed writes of the White Boy Rick experience: “I can think of no reason any bright, witty or halfway sophisticated movie lover — or otherwise normal person — would want to spend 10 minutes with any of the criminal degenerates in this worthless load of crap.”

Understand that when I say ‘innately likable’ I’m dialing up the sarcasm to 11. I’m not exactly the biggest Rex Reed fan out there; his writing is aggressively obnoxious and true to form here he wants you to know just HOW OFFENDED he is, dealing a number of below-the-belt hits — some aimed at star Matthew McConaughey’s unfortunate “microwaved” appearance, others reserved for the quantity of newcomer Richie Merritt’s acne pimples, and the majority of which seem irresponsibly misdirected. His review is nothing short of a beating that leaves little doubt as to what this critic believes is the worst film of all of 2018. He gave the film a big fat 0 out of 4 on his scale, for whatever that’s worth.

French director Yann Demange (whose 2014 war drama ’71 I left shaken but also moved by) shares the story of Richard Wershe Jr. (Merritt), who in the mid-’80s went from being the youngest drug kingpin-turned-FBI informant in American history to the longest-serving prisoner for a non-violent crime in Michigan state history. That story, such as it is, manifests as a perpetually downward spiral that ends at rock bottom. Its chapters constructed around the spectacularly poor choices he made in the interest of saving his family — father Richard Wershe Sr. (McConaughey), sister Dawn (Bel Powley) and neighboring grandparents (cameos by Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie) — from being swallowed up by Detroit’s filth and squalor at the height of the 80s crack epidemic.

Richard Jr. earns the nickname when he falls in with a black gang headed by Johnny “Little Man” Curry (Jonathan Majors). Initially acting as an intermediary between his gun-hustling father and his seedy clientele, he’s soon persuaded by the FBI (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane, both delivering convincingly cold performances) to start moving weight in an effort to capture the big, rotting fish at the center of the city’s narcotics woes — the coke-snorting mayor himself. For his cooperation, the feds promise to look the other way when it comes to bringing Richard Sr. in on hefty manufacturing/distribution of weapons charges.

White Boy Rick is a well-acted affair but the performances — namely from Team Merritt and McConaughey — aren’t quite enough to overpower the stench of misery that these characters bring to the screen. Richard Jr. is a selfish and reckless individual and as Richard Sr., McConaughey is no more sympathetic. In fact he’s arguably the least redeemable of them all as we see how his business is promoting chaos and violence throughout the city, how his lack of parenting has emboldened his son to crime — or his daughter to make the decision to walk out on the family.

I cringe to do this, but Rex Reed is actually . . . right. Maybe not 0/4 right — that’s pretty harsh, bro. He’s on to something though. White Boy Rick is a movie awkwardly lacking an empathetic hook, and more problematically, entertainment. There is a big difference between, say, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs — a classic case of schadenfreude — and White Boy Rick, a movie that spends two hours enumerating all the things the kid does wrong only to ask us in the end to take pity on him because he is merely a teenage victim of a broken system.

Because this family is no fun to be around, there really is no point to the exercise. White Boy Rick is based on a real life story but what exactly do we gain from all of these losses? Maybe being pointless is its raison d’être — criminal drug-dealing only leads to one place, and that place is directionless, bottomless despair (or a jail cell, take your pick). I suppose my biggest gripe with the movie is that it made me agree with Rex Reed on something for once. The movie brought us closer together and I will never forgive White Boy Rick for that.

Recommendation: White Boy Rick is a true story with little entertainment value. A cautionary tale steeped in cliché and grating characters. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “We’re goin’ for custard!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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9 thoughts on “White Boy Rick

  1. Pingback: Month in Review: September ’18 | Thomas J

    • I actually wasn’t even going to review this, I left it so utterly unmoved by the thing I had no real desire to talk about it. Personally, I think it’d make a better memoir than a movie. There just isn’t much here to take away, and I suppose movies aren’t always compelled to offer some kind of moral, but WBR is a story lacking in interest mostly because there is no redemptive qualities to the characters really at all. So, like Reed, I actually had more of an issue with the material itself than the presentation

    • Bummer is the word I’d use to describe this. Idk, some people are going to find more in it than I, but I couldn’t get around how unlikable all the characters are. And the unusual plot structure just makes the movie tick along sooo slowly. The pacing was as big of an issue too, but I guess i got caught up trashing Rex Reed I kinda forgot about that lol

  2. Haven’t seen this movie yet. I’m playing catch up with the movie right now so I watched Three Identical Strangers which is still playing at the local arthouse theater. I found it fascinating. I must admit I was somewhat confused by one of the developments in the story. I ended up researching more on their plight after I saw it and it helped me to understand a bit more on their background. I’m glad I finally saw it.

    • You’re not missing much with White Boy Rick. It’s really downbeat, which on its own is fine, but when you get to the end you’re just like….why did I just sit through this? Haha

      Glad you were able to see Three Identical Strangers. I was more enthusiastic about it than you it appears but goodness, that was absolutely a fascinating story. One of my favorites of the year. Docu or otherwise

  3. It’s a good father-son-daughter story, but for the setting and time it takes place in, it is really surface level. I highlighted that Rick is a victim, but he’s also a beneficiary of a system due to his skin color. That’s an interesting story within a story that is only hinted at. Seemed to be hunting more towards fun early on, and then weight, kind of tough to get into all the way emotionally. This goes against some of the other opinions I’ve seen, but I really liked the 2nd half overall, indifferent/bored with the first half.

    Do think it’s McConaughey’s best work since Dallas Buyers, however. He’s spectacular in this.

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