White Boy Rick – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Yann Demange
Writers: Andy Weiss, Logan Miller
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley
In the 1980’s Detroit had been in economic decline for a long time. Both its African American and White inhabitants, at the bottom of the economic heap, were struggling to get by. The opening scene has Richard Wershe Senior (Matt McConoughey) and his fifteen year old son Rick junior (Richie Merritt) attending in the Mid West a gun convention which makes it clear that amongst Rick senior’s skills is an ability to blackmail. The film then cuts to the wastelands of Detroit where Senior is driving, in his beat up old saloon, Junior through the obliterated streets. Rick senior reveals that he has a dream that a video shop will make him his fortune and solve their problems, while Rick junior just wishes to get out of the dump that Detroit is. Both father and son want something different to what they have.
They arrive at what is called home where Rick junior’s sister Dawn (Bel Powley) is caught in flagrante delicto. She runs half-dressed onto the street where we meet the Wershe grandparents Roman ‘Ray'(Bruce Dern) and Werna (Piper Laurie) who are returning from a shopping expedition. They live next door. There is a hail of expletives and it is clear that this is a family with many issues who are living on the edge in more ways than one.
Rick junior is a youth of initiative and bravely, he makes contact with a drugs gang in order to sell them a couple of his Dad’s modified weapons. To them, he is from a different world and that is why their leader Johnny “Lil Man” Curry (Jonathan Majors) calls him “White Boy Rick”. He gets sucked into the world of dealing drugs but also becomes enmeshed in helping the cops- a dangerous place to be. The particularly grim part of the story is that it is based on fact.
Merritt gives an extraordinary performance as White Boy Rick, as this is his first acting role having been found in a casting search. He was utterly convincing playing opposite McConaughey who he apparently had not heard of previously. They bond into a formidable father and son team while Powley as his junkie sister is suitably unpredictable and even hysterical at times. The Wershes, all three generations of them, are all part of one family, albeit a dysfunctional one. The African Americans who make up the drug gangs and their milieu are all without family, dysfunctional or otherwise. They are all individuals who are either part of a gang or a girl friend of a gang member. These relationships are not developed so that their personalities remain hidden apart from Lil Man to some extent.
The cops use White Boy Rick for their own purposes in their war on drugs. He and his father Rich Senior are mere pawns in their hands. Demage has taken a true story where the audience experience a different side to the war on drugs than the one usually told. Being a white boy is more of a disadvantage it would appear for Rick junior than an advantage. It is a disturbing set of facts that come to be revealed. The result is that Demange has created a film to be appreciated.