Before I walked into “White Boy Rick,” I was asked by a friend of mine if I knew the story or will I wait to see the movie. I told her I heard the kid just got released from prison last year.
The kid I’m referring to is Richard Wershe, Jr., better known as “White Boy Rick,” who became the youngest FBI informant at the age of 14. He also was given a life sentence for selling and holding cocaine. The movie tells that story, but it doesn’t have the kind of spark I was looking forward to.
The story takes place in Detroit of 1984. Newcomer Richie Merritt plays White Boy Rick, whose junkie sister Dawn (Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) leaves home to live with an African-American names Ty (Lawrence Adimora), whom their gun-dealing father (Matthew McConaughey) hates. Both he and his dad buy some guns from the latest gun show, so they can eventually open up a video store.
When the lad sells some for money to Lil Man (Jonathan Majors), the FBI (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) targets his dad as a criminal, and now he has to save his skin, by being an informant for both them and their detective (Brian Tyree Henry). His job with them is over, but of course, with the struggling lives he and his dad are trapped in, Rick ends up playing a dangerous game by selling cocaine in his own terms. That’s why he became a criminal.
“White Boy Rick” has the look and feel of an 80s crime drama, thanks to the rainy/snowy Detroit weather and mostly to the performances from McConaughey and Merritt. They have chemistry, and they’re both written and placed in scenes of pure ambitions and thrills. And their final scene together brought some tears in my eyes. I love when dramas show us those kind of tender father-son moments.
But as fine as the acting is, the movie disappoints in its narrative. Parts of the movie are confusing, the supporting characters (also with RJ Cyler, Eddie Marsan, Bruce Dern, and Piper Laurie) are both underwritten and lackluster, and with all the parties and hustles the young lad gets into, it’s exhausting. I wasn’t feeling anything in these scenes.
Director Yann Demange (“71”) does a fabulous job making the movie look fresh with its locations and scenery. And he guides the two main actors with the right intentions, but the whole movie ends up becoming run-of-the-mill.