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White Boy Rick

by Lindsey Bahr
Friday Sep 14, 2018
'White Boy Rick'
'White Boy Rick'  

There's a "where are they now" at the end of "White Boy Rick," an astonishing true story about a teenager in a rough part of Detroit in the 1980s who became an undercover FBI informant, that might have served the movie better had the audience been aware from the beginning.

This kid, Richard Wershe Jr., ended up being arrested and sentenced to life in prison for possessing eight kilograms of cocaine under a controversial Michigan drug policy, the so-called 650-lifer law. He was only 17 - a minor - and, until recently, was still behind bars. This isn't the story that's told in director Yann Demange's film, but it is context that would have helped frame the whole endeavor and perhaps make us care a little more about Rick from the beginning.

As it is, this movie is all about how he ended up there. Rick, played by newcomer Richie Merritt, is the son of a smart and charismatic but down on his luck lower class dad/hustler, Richard Sr. (Matthew McConaughey, sporting a big mustache and long, combed-back hair), who's trying to advance their station in life by re-selling modified AK-47s to local drug lords in east Detroit. Rick's mom left them, and his sister, Dawn (Bel Powley) is on the verge of becoming a full-blown junkie.

The film starts out in 1984 when Rick is 14, and shows how this soft-spoken boy with a tough guy demeanor gets so easily swept up in and seduced by the glamour of the drug scene, the parties, the access, the girls and, of course, the money. It's right in the thick of the war on drugs and "Just Say No" proselytizing.

Two FBI agents (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) pay Richard Sr. a visit one day, trying to get him to give some info about the people he sells guns to. He declines, but Rick Jr. jumps in to tell them a little. And in no time at all, he's a full on informant, playing a double game with some of the city's most powerful dealers, like Lil' Man (Jonathan Majors), and making money on his own.

There are some real fun scenes, especially at the beginning, as we are introduced to the Wershe family including grandma Verna (Piper Laurie) and grandpa Roman (Bruce Dern) next door. As in most Hollywood films about blue collar people, this family is loud and brash and a little unwashed, but lovable nonetheless (it's not exactly a surprise that Darren Aronofsky is a producer. Aesthetically, "White Boy Rick" is a spiritual sister to "The Fighter").

Demange gives a real sense of place and time in "White Boy Rick," from the homes and the cars to the clubs and the glorious neon "Skate & Roll" sign outside one of their regular gathering spots. The snow even looks real (most of the time).

Merritt is an interesting find and as a first-time actor is solid enough, although I'm not entirely sure this novelty adds anything particularly special to the movie, especially when McConaughey is next to him giving a whole performance. McConaughey is so good and emotionally affecting as Richard Sr., in both vulnerable and tough moments, that it might even catch you off guard.

The film overstays its welcome, especially in the slow-going third act, and fails to really develop some of the essential characters outside of the Wershe family (although there is a really wonderful scene-stealing child actor who comes along late in the game who brings the movie back to life for a bit).

Overall, it is a bewildering story of the callousness of the adults who helped encourage Rick to get into this position (the betrayals will make your blood boil), and an indictment of how U.S. laws can tend to hurt the most vulnerable classes. It also doesn't take itself too deadly seriously, which is maybe the best thing to happen to this Scorsese-adjacent genre in a while.

White Boy Rick

Rick Wershe is a single father who's struggling to raise two teenagers during the height of the crack epidemic in 1980s Detroit. Wershe sells guns illegally to make ends meet but soon attracts attention from the FBI. Federal agents convince his son, Rick Jr., to become an undercover drug informant in exchange for keeping his father out of prison. When young Rick gets in too deep, he finds himself seduced by the lure of easy money and becomes a drug dealer himself.


Runtime :: 111 mins
Release Date :: Sep 14, 2018
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States


Richard Wershe Sr. :: Matthew McConaughey
Rick Wershe Jr. :: Richie Merritt
Dawn Wershe :: Bel Powley
FBI Agent Snyder :: Jennifer Leigh
Detective Jackson :: Brian Henry
FBI Agent Byrd :: Rory Cochrane
Rudell ``Boo' Curry :: RJ Cyler
Johnny ``Lil Man' Curry :: Jonathan Majors
Art Derrick :: Eddie Marsan
Cathy Volsan-Curry :: Taylour Paige
Grandpa Roman ``Ray' Wershe :: Bruce Dern
Grandma Verna Wershe :: Piper Laurie
Edwin ``Nugg' Crutcher :: Raekwon Haynes
``Freaky Steve' Roussell :: Ishmael ``Ishdarr' Ali
Chief Homicide Inspector Hill :: James Howard
Leo ``Big Man' Curry :: YG
``Black Ed' Hanserd :: Danny Brown
Brenda Moore :: Kyanna Simone Simpson
Jamil Cannon :: Morerice Thornton
Demetrius Johnson :: Isaiah Ali
Tyler Finney :: Lawrence Adimora
Willie Volsan :: Alan Jones
Mayor Coleman Young :: Art Terry
FBI Agent Crespo :: Santos Velasquez
Blonde Gun Buyer :: Heidi Sulzman
Leon Lucas :: LaShawn Little
Frankie Lucas :: Ronald Williams
Damian Lucas :: Anthony Woods
William Bufalino Jr. :: James Shinkle


Director :: Yann Demange
Screenwriter :: Andy Weiss
Screenwriter :: Logan Miller
Screenwriter :: Noah Miller
Producer :: John Lesher
Producer :: Julie Yorn
Producer :: Scott Franklin
Producer :: Darren Aronofsky
Executive Producer :: Georgia Kacandes
Executive Producer :: Matthew Krul
Executive Producer :: Ari Handel
Executive Producer :: Michael Weiss
Executive Producer :: Christopher Mallick
Executive Producer :: Logan Miller
Executive Producer :: Noah Miller
Cinematographer :: Tat Radcliffe
Film Editor :: Chris Wyatt
Original Music :: Max Richter
Production Design :: Stefania Cella
Supervising Art Direction :: Audra Avery
Art Director :: Bryan Felty
Set Decoration :: Jon Bush
Costume Designer :: Amy Westcott
Casting :: Francine Maisler
Casting :: Jennifer Venditti

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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