The story of one of the youngest ever FBI informants in a drug riddled downtown Detroit, directed by the director of ’71, has got to be good, right?
With source material so good, a 14-year old FBI informant helping to crack a drugs ring who, ultimately, becomes a drug dealer himself, you’ve got to look hard at White Boy Rick to understand how it all could have gone so wrong, the film, as well as his life.
Writers Andy Weiss (“Punk’d (TV)”, “Scrappers (TV)”), Logan Miller (“Touching Home”, “Sweet Vengeance”) and Noah Miller (“Touching Home”, “Sweet Vengeance”) have turned a fascinating, and hereto untold story, into a long, drawn-out slog of a movie.
The movie isn’t helped by newcomer Richie Merritt who plays the titular White Boy Rock with such a laissez-faire attitude it’s a wonder he managed to get up in the morning. Reportedly Merritt has said he’d never heard of co-star Matthew McConaughey (“The Dark Tower“, “Gold“), who plays his father. Perhaps if he spent time watching other actors he may have at least been able to keep your attention.
As it is, his performance just leaves you heading for the door. He mumbles his way through things and has all the enthusiasm of President Trump talking to China about trade.
McConaughey, Bel Powley (“Mary Shelley”, “Carrie Pilby“) – as his sister – and others do inject enthusiasm and life to the film, but ultimately this is about Rick, and Merritt seems out of his depth.
Elsewhere, things are good, McConaughey gives a good performance, Powley nails it, even the brief appearances by Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”, “The Hateful Eight“) as Grandpa are good and director Yann Demange holds things well, if not spectacular.
But coming in at nearly two-hours long the film is too much; it drags with tedious dialogue that seems shoehorned in because it’s the eighties and then you get Merritt alongside Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight“, “Annihilation”), who is also drab and as enthused as a wet, rainy day, talking through gritted teeth, and things grind to a shuddering halt.
This is a real shame as the story is fascinating. Rick Wershe Jr. grew up in a house whereby his father was selling AK47’s with homemade silencers to local gangs. The FBI collar Rick Jr. and say they’ll overlook that particular misdemeanour if he starts working for them.
Mum has long since flown the nest and his sister is mixed up with the wrong sort and hooked on the very drugs Rick Jr. will end up selling in the future. People are shot, Rick Jr. is shot and gangs get rich.
What we get to see though is no-one actually taking drugs, one-shooting, one nearly-shooting, Rick Jr. get involved with a girl he used to go to school with, some roller-disco and a whole lotta anger at his father; again and again and again.
White Boy Rick should have been so much better, it could have been so much better. But either the source material, despite the premise, just isn’t there or the people involved couldn’t make the leap or choosing an unknown to play lead doesn’t always pay off, or all of the above, or none. I don’t know, frankly, I’m finding it hard to care, I’m just going to mumble my way through, seems to work.
Also published on Medium.