Thursday, September 13, 2018

Demange, Weiss & the brothers Miller's WHITE BOY RICK: a feel-bad film done very, very well

The only other full-length film we've seen from Yann Demange -- a born-in-Paris-but-raised-in-London filmmaker who has worked mostly in British television -- is the behind-enemy-lines action thriller, '71. His latest work, WHITE BOY RICK, is set in Detroit during the last half of the 1980s and is often as quiet and slow-moving as '71 was fast and slick. It is also a kind of real-life bio-pic about the sort of character most bio-pics might avoid: a not-very-bright kid from a not-very-bright family who makes just about all the wrong choices.

And yet, by the end of this sad and surprisingly moving tale of failure and family, I think you'll be glad you got to know Richard Wershe, Jr., and learned his unusual story. Filmmaker Demange, shown at right, along with his screenwriters Andy Weiss and twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller, take their time building story and characters -- especially that of their main one, the young man who became known as "White Boy Rick" because of his seemingly oddball entry into the Black bourgeoisie of the 1980s Detroit. (He was also a leading cog in the Black drug trade of that time and place, which we see and learn a lot about from this more realistic, less melodramatic film.)

The title role is played by a newcomer to film named Richie Merritt (above center), who offers a nearly affectless performance for much of the film that works surprisingly well. Rick seems like a fairly typical "dumb teenager" who keeps his thoughts and feelings close to the vest, only very occasionally letting them go "public." Because he and his family are borderline poor, always living on the brink, you can understand why Rick is so ready to embrace the drug trade.

Playing against young Merritt's affectlessness is that ever-energetic actor Matthew McConaughey as his dad, and the two make an appealing and believable combo. McConaughey tamps down some of his excesses (the kind that made his performance in Gold so much fun) but still brings "Dad" to vibrant life, never more so than in the sweet and moving scene in which he greets his new granddaughter (above).

The supporting ensemble includes a wealth of well-known and quite capable actors, from Jennifer Jason Leigh (above, center) to Rory Cochrane (above, right) and Bel Powley (shown two photos below, at left), plus a raft of excellent Black actors, each of whom nails his or her role and all of whom ought to be better known at this point.

The movie, however, belongs to its two leads, and to its tale of lower-middle class America, black and white, struggling to simply manage a decent life but being used, mostly ill-used, by the establishment and turning to crime to make ends meet.

This is an old story, which Demange and his writers give new life -- even if they do leave out where our "hero," Rick, resided after the end-credits sequence, which is all the more moving for simply using Rick's voice rather than an accompanying image of the "real" person.

From Columbia Pictures and running 110 minutes, the movie opens tomorrow, Friday, September 14, in a number of cities around the country. Click here to find the theaters nearest you.

No comments: