Yann Demange’s second film after the tense ’71 takes him to 1980s Detroit to tell the story of Rick Jr. (newcomer Richie Merritt), a boy who is coerced into becoming an undercover drug informant for the FBI in order to keep his father (Matthew McConaughey) out of prison.
This true story is one that almost sprawls out too far, with Rick Jr’s family, drug dealers, friends, and police all vying for the viewer’s attention. Each has something important to say; Rick Jr’s sister Dawn is a victim of the crack epidemic sweeping the country, souring his own success as a dealer of the same drug. Unfortunately this relationship in particular, which could have left a much longer lasting mark, just isn’t given enough time to develop on screen, slotted in amongst everything else happening.
The performances and surprising injection of dark humour make the film tick along at a fairly swift rate despite the jumble of subplots and serious content. Standout supporting performances come from Bryan Tyree Henry (unstoppable in his success this year) as an FBI agent urging Rick Jr into informing for him, and there’s a delightful cameo from Detroit-based rapper Danny Brown, who confronts Rick Jr’s friends in Vegas.
Demange directs period features stylishly and without too much pastiche, which is refreshing. One of the key locations in the film is a roller rink, which, bearing in mind the film is set in the 80s, could induce some eye rolling. But Demange weaves location into the story competently, giving the impression that everything included is necessary.
White Boy Rick is a film with too many stories to tell, but Demange just about keeps it from becoming too tangled up, with sharp humour and a cast that keeps the film afloat in a wild tale of drugs and family.
CAST: Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey, YG, Bel Powely
DIRECTOR: Yann Demange
WRITERS: Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller
SYNOPSIS: The story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.