HomeMoviesReview: The Performances Outshine All Else in White Boy Rick

Review: The Performances Outshine All Else in White Boy Rick

White Boy Rick
Photo Credit: Scott Garfield

There are plenty of instances of films that are loosely based on a true story taking tremendous liberties and exaggerating details to make a screenplay more interesting, but in the case of White Boy Rick, it seems the real struggle was deciding what absurd details of the title character’s life to leave out. Would you believe that a cocaine and arms dealing 14-year-old kid became an FBI informant if it wasn’t being marketed as the true story of a Matthew McConaughey movie? Point made.

Through a series of poor choices and some seemingly forced ones, Rick Wershe Jr. or “white boy Rick” learns the drug game to keep his illegal gun dealing father Richard Sr. (McConaughey) out of trouble with FBI agents Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Byrd (Rory Cochrane). Cochrane and McConaughey share the screen again for the first time since Dazed and Confused, and that’s how a viewer might feel trying to understand Rick’s decision making as he navigates the increasingly dangerous game he is playing while watched suspiciously by the real kingpin of the time, Johnny Curry (Jonathan Majors) and his crew.

While Rick is initially coerced into dealing drugs and informing to help the FBI bring down some major distributors and corrupt public officials in exchange for money and drug profits, he quickly gets enamored with the lifestyle that it can bring. Once he’s had a taste of it, it becomes hard for him to accept a life doing anything else—especially when he feels more responsibility to earn for his family.

While the true story of Rick’s short-lived career in the ’80s as a major dealer in Detroit is certainly interesting, it’s really the outstanding performances by the key players that make the film worth watching. At the heart of this drama is a story of family and that is when it is at its best. Director Yann Demange gets top-notch performances from McConaughey, newcomer Merritt as Rick, and Bel Powley as his daughter, Dawn Wershe. While Rick’s Dad clearly lacks strong moral fiber, he does seem to have a deep love for his kids, which is depicted best when they are at their lowest and he is struggling to keep it all together.

While Wershe Sr. seems to have a vision for his family’s future, it’s contrived and even Ricky–who repeatedly displays a lack of good judgement–questions why they don’t leave a city that is clearly offering nothing to them. Only McConaughey can deliver his Dad’s response of, “lions don’t leave the Serengeti.” Outside of the intriguing family drama that plays throughout, lines like that and some well-placed comedic moments are what hold this film together. It works much in the way that the show Shameless does, in that you just wait to see how these hustlers are going to survive from one moment to the next.

The story itself would be told best through a limited series. Rick’s rise from selling guns for his Dad to becoming one of the biggest cocaine dealers in Detroit spans a few years, but it still ends up feeling rushed while jumping from one point in time to the next. The film lacks any real climax or buildup before his world comes crashing down, but maybe that’s the point Demange wants to convey. A life of crime is certainly unpredictable and cruel.

Also lost in this condensed storytelling is the ability to expand upon any of the characters that aren’t part of the Wershe family, which is a shame considering the talent and opportunity surrounding them. An especially scene-stealing sequence in the middle of the film from young E’Xavion Walker as the little brother of Ricky’s baby’s mother Brenda (Kyanna Simone Simpson) stands out as one of the most enjoyable moments in the movie, but its not able to go anywhere further due to the pacing.

While White Boy Rick still works as an entertaining drama and calls into question the integrity with which the real circumstances facing Rick were handled by the government and judicial system, it lacked enough compelling moments to really linger in my mind once I left the theater, and I already know how exceptional McConaughey can be.

Rating: 7/10

-Ben Murchison

White Boy Rick is currently playing in select theaters nationwide.

Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison is a regular contributor for TV and Movies. He’s that guy that spends an hour in an IMDb black hole of research about every film and show he watches. Strongly believes Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be the best show to ever exist, and that Peaky Blinders needs more than 6 episodes per series. East Carolina grad, follow on Twitter and IG @bdmurchison.


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