WHITE BOY RICK
The kid who would be kingpin…
A t one point in Yann Demange’s (’71) fact-based coming-of-ager, the protagonist is told, “This is Detroit, boy! If you ain’t on the take, you get your ass took!” It’s a line that sums up the moral grey area in which Richard Wershe Jr. (fresh-faced newbie Richie Merritt) lives most of an eventful adolescence that sees him become an FBI informant, a coke-dealing hustler and the victim of heinous injustice.
The harsh facts behind that latter development serve as a bitter postscript to what’s otherwise staged as both a jaunty ’80s lark and a dysfunctional family drama. Rick’s father (Matthew McConaughey) is a chancer with big dreams. His sister (Bel Powley), meanwhile, is a crack addict. Full of lurid clobber and disco bangers the film invites us to admire Rick’s guile as he goes from reluctant fink to actual kingpin, much to the dismay of the undercover Feds (Rory Cochrane and Jennifer Jason Leigh) who recruited him in the first place.
There’s much to like in Merritt’s naturalistic performance. Yet it’s hard to feel too sorry for a kid who, in this telling at least, apparently doesn’t need much encouragement to embark upon a double-life of crime. Neil Smith
An engrossing, sometimes tense, but ultimately rather unedifying crimes-of-passage story.
“follow me son and one day you could have a stunning moustache too…”