Wild, unlikely and unfortunately true tale of crime and a very young drug kingpin, this story takes us into the heart of the crack cocaine explosion of 1980s Detroit.
Rick Wershe became the youngest criminal to snitch on his fellow crooks as an FBI informant. Drug lord and snitch would tax the abilities of an adult, much less a 15-year-old. The decidedly less than brilliant teen simply gets ground to dust between the feds on the one hand and his criminal associates on the other hand.
This film brings us in the seats no joy. It instead brings us disgust, dismay, irritation and a sense that many people in the world have problems in life that they have not the least hope of solving.
But movie buffs can embrace the very high quality of the acting and the expert directing. That brings consolation—but not enough for me. This excellent film is a total downer.
New to Hollywood, in fact new to the craft of acting, Richie Merritt was only 15 when cast for the role of the young hoodlum. He even looks like the teen criminal he portrays. He accurately portrays a boy pretending maturity in situations well beyond his comprehension.
I knew that I wanted to see this film when I found out that a major role (father of the young criminal) would be played by Matthew McConaughey. The Oscar winner brings an intensity to his roles that makes us in the seats pay close attention to his every move, every word, every change of expression. Here he plays a lunkhead, the adult counterpart to the boy, grown up but still over his head.
Backing up the leading duo are Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie as the boy’s grand parents. The Academy nominated both of them for Oscars over their long careers. Piper Laurie played in her first feature film in 1950.
Playing a fed, Jennifer Jason Leigh also has a long career and an Oscar nom. She recently had a major role in The Hateful Eight but has also played in such classic or memorable films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Flesh & Blood (one of the best medieval films ever) and the terrifying psychological thriller Single White Female.
The director and the three writers also display their talent. They are all young up and comers in my book. Director Yann Demange has done a lot of TV work, but also directed the lavishly praised 2014 film ‘71. The writers include Andy Weiss and the twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller. All three writers have done credible work in film and TV but have yet to become famous. Maybe White Boy Rick will change that.
White Boy Rick runs for one hour and 51 minutes. This excellent film rates a hefty three and a half Saw Blades. As you would expect in a film about drugs and crime, it carries a strong R rating. The film features constant vile language and some nasty sexual bits, so be warned. The film avoids actual nudity. The producers spent $29 million to make the film. While a totally professional effort, the theme is so grim and hopeless that the appeal for the general audience is limited.
The real life Rick Wershe left federal prison after 29 long years in 2017. Authorities from Florida instantly arrested him to serve even more time on state charges. Crime doesn’t pay. He will rejoin society as a free man around Christmastime in 2020.
With White Boy Rick we can now say that the Autumnal Filmdroms, the slack season between the summer blockbusters and the more refined Oscar hopefuls and Christmas films, has officially ended.