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White Boy Rick
3.5/5
dir Yann Demange
scr Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller
prd Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, John Lesher, Jeff Robinov, Julie Yorn
with Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, Brian Tyree Henry, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie, Eddie Marsan, RJ Cyler, Jonathan Majors, Taylour Paige
release US 14.Sep.18, UK 7.Dec.18
18/US Columbia 1h51
White Boy Rick
Survival instinct: Merritt and McConaughey

powley leigh cochrane
TORONTO FILM FEST
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
White Boy Rick Set in the mid-1980s wreckage of Detroit, this true story tells a cautionary tale about injustice. It's finely shot and edited, with strong performances, but as it goes along the story gets increasingly gloomy, sticking to the events themselves rather than any underlying themes that might have made it resonate. So it ends up being an interesting story that strains to touch us emotionally.

In a run-down suburb, Richard (McConaughey) is a single dad to crack-addict Dawn (Powley) and 14-year-old Rick (Merritt), who helps Richard sell guns to support the family. But two FBI agents (Leigh and Cochrane) are watching and, working with a local detective (Henry), they coerce Rick into selling drugs to entrap a notorious gang. Rick is terrified about ratting on his friends, for whom he's the only white guy around, but he has little choice. And when things take a turn, the question is whether the FBI or local cops will have Rick's back.

The film powerfully depicts misguided law enforcement, where officers have no real idea what they're doing and use people like expendable chess pieces to get a headline-making arrest. This has nothing to do with making the city safer. As one of Rick's black friends observe, he will get "white justice", something unavailable to them. This gives the story a pointed context, and Demange directs scenes with an earthy, almost documentary realism that makes everything feel urgent.

Newcomer Merritt shines in the focal role, making Rick vivid, complex and likeable. Rick seems the be the one person who understands what's going on in this messy situation, and Merritt gives him a clear-eyed intelligence grounded in wit and raw emotion. He certainly holds his own opposite McConaughey, who's on fine form here as a sensitive dad struggling to hold things together. Everyone else is solid too. Dern and Laurie have strong scenes as Richard's distant parents next door. And Marsan stands out as a hyperactive drug kingpin.

Powerful moments deliver shocking action and intense emotion. But as the film progresses, the story spirals into its own misery, as if the script is preaching a sermon against everything from drug use to police corruption. The movie sags under this weight, becoming bogged down in a series of betrayals, setbacks and bad breaks. But even if the personal connection is somewhat lost in the heavy material, this is a great story that needed to be told.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Oct.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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