White Boy Rick review
We've heard and seen this story before. Achieving the American dream of success through illegal means. Not only is this a trope that has been done tons of times, but movies like The Godfatherand Scarfaceused it to become their own successes as some of the greatest movies ever. So why is this story constantly told over again despite the emphasis that what these characters are doing is wrong? I think it has to do with another kind of American pride; the spirit of ingenuity. Even though we know that theft and hurting others is wrong, but we still admire people that do these things to make it one step ahead of the next guy. People are attracted to people that are driven enough in spirit to reach their goals. We all want that same spirit and try to figure out how to apply that to ourselves.
So if this trope is used a lot, then why hear it again? It's all about how different it can present itself that we haven't heard from The Godfatheror Scarfaceor Goodfellas. As luck would have it, we haven't heard it done from the perspective of someone whose only a teenager. So let's hear the story of White Boy Rick.
In the mid 1980s, Richard Wershe Jr. (played by Richie Merritt) is constantly encouraged by his father Richard Wershe Sr. (played by Matthew McConaughey) to never run away from your problems and find a way to personal success. This is a lot to swallow considering how they both live in the slums of Detroit and Richard Sr. is still dirt broke and unsuccessful. As a lot of kids are in bad neighborhoods, Richard Jr. is steered towards the local gang as he manages to sell guns with silencers to them at a steep price.
As he gets in further with fellow gang members, he's convinced by FBI agents Alex (played by Janet Jason Leigh) and Frank (played by Rory Cochrane) to buy and sell drugs, as a way to develop a network that can be further investigated. Though Richard is not happy about his teenage son doing these things to get rich, he also doesn't put in an effort to stop him. This gets his son in the middle of a lot of the gang conflict, including them wondering if "White Boy Rick" is even a needed asset.
There are two things here that separate White Boy Rickfrom the other "American Dream Through Illegal Means" movies. First, the focus is on this kid whose making these dangerous choices. Secondly, this isn't your typical rags-to-riches movie. I'd say it's more of a rags-to-slightly better rags. So we have a character whose only in it for a few things he wants before declaring himself "wealthy". I have to say that does make this kid more relatable then a lot of other gangsters who are in it for the gold and money. Now does this translate for a good movie?
The plot within is a tad clunky. I think a lot of it has to do with Matthew McConaughey and his relationship with his son. It stands out much more in the first half when we see him have to witness his son's descent into organized crime and trying to convince himself that this is going to help him. The first half of the movie also understands that crime in this area would be enough of a draw. It's his descent into the dark side that's really engaging. Where a lot of things drop off is within the second half.
While I won't spoil what happens, something does happen to Richie Merritt's character that makes him question his actions. This is when the movie has a hard time focusing on whose perspective and doesn't even seem to know whether we should be sympathetic to the main character. Perhaps if a better actor was set in place it would be more engaging, but Richie Merritt is awkward and is not much of an emoter. It doesn't help that when next to Matthew McConaughey, he's overpowered by the more experienced and charming actor.
I'll give this three Star of David blings out of five. It does have a lot of interesting portrayals about the realities and dreams of these people that are in such positions. Had they gotten a better lead, this may have been one of my favorites of the year. I'd say it'll make a better rental or Netflix movie of the night. Give it a watch and see if you can overcome so-so acting.