White Boy Rick: A True, But Tired Crime Story

by Ben Martin

I’m particularly partial to true crime dramas/biopics for one simple reason.  Crime biopics, the good ones anyway, seem like they come from the mind of a screenwriter. When in reality, it’s the other way around. These lives of crime are lived out and then adapted by a screenwriter. Moreover, these real-life stories usually feature characters who are larger than life; making them ever-more appealing. In this reviewer’s opinion, the shining examples of which are Goodfellas (1990) and Blow (2001).
Not every film in this subgenre is shining but instead laced in grime. Thus, bringing us the latest, recently released true crime biopic, White Boy Rick. The film tells the story of Richard Wershe Jr (Richie Merritt), a young man trying to find his way in 1980s Detroit. While Rick shares a close relationship with his father, Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), a legally licensed, but shady arms dealer, young Rick doesn’t want to be anything like his dad. Wanting to carve his path to riches and independence, teenage Rick earns his titular nickname when he starts dealing guns and cocaine to local Detroit gangs. Soon though, “White Boy Rick” becomes an FBI informant to save himself.

With a story like that, White Boy Rick seems like it would be an exciting ride of a motion picture. A notion that’s bolstered if you’ve seen the film’s trailer. A piece of marketing that’s quite simply, one the best trailers I’ve seen this year. Backed by a soundtrack of Donna Summers‘I Feel Love ‘; the trailer promises a fun, 80s crime drama that posses the cocaine-fueled which was so prevalent in that decade. Alas, what we get is a slow and depressing crime-drama. Despite being under 2 hours, White Boy Rick feels several hours long. A pacing issue which I found odd considering the film’s screenplay feels choppy and devoid of real-life details at times.

While the issues I have with White Boy Rick loom as heavy over this picture as gloom and dirt do, the movie isn’t devoid of positive qualities. Indeed, White Boy Rick is a well-made picture. One which director Yann Demange makes feel so real that the desperation of its characters and the world around them becomes palpable. Characters who are brought to life by an excellent cast on every level. Newcomer Richie Merritt does not even seem to be playing a role. Instead, Merritt makes you believe he is this kid. Then there’s McConaughey, who turns in another great, albeit, dialed up performance.
However, this film’s superb cast isn’t enough. After a while, these characters and the bad choices they continually make become exhausting. At which point, I could no longer have any sympathy or empathy for them; especially “White Boy Rick.” After losing my investment in these characters, something became abundantly clear. That being that White Boy Rick offers absolutely nothing new. Instead, it uses crime genre tropes and manages to be quite dull while doing so. In closing, if you’re crime drama buff, you should see White Boy Rick. That is if you see it on a rainy, lazy Sunday afternoon on TV for free.

White Boy Rick is Now Playing!

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