White Boy Rick
★★★☆☆ Dir Yann Demange Starring Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley Dur 111 mins Cert 15
With a greasy mullet and drooping caterpillar moustache, Matthew McConaughey is once again channelling failed secondhand car salesman in White Boy Rick, a somewhat flavourless low-energy crime drama directed by Yann Demange, who made the terrific Troubles thriller ’71. The film is inspired by the story of Rick Wershe, the FBI’s youngest ever informant at 14, who helped bring down a string of drug dealers and corrupt cops in the 1980s. After being dropped by the feds, Wershe was himself arrested on cocaine charges and jailed for life at 17, his car number plate – “Snowman” – presumably a big clue for investigators. McConaughey plays his gun-lovin’ dad Rick Sr.
We first meet Rick Jr (newcomer Richie Merritt) at home in suburban Detroit. The muddy-coloured period detail feels spot on, all rusted pick-up trucks and the end of autumn decay of a city ravaged by car-factory job losses and crack cocaine. Rick Sr is a dreamer who makes ends meet by selling guns and tip-offs to the FBI.
During a home visit, his handler – with zero scruples about exploiting a minor – recruits Rick Jr, instructing him to buy crack to help gather evidence against dealers. Pretty soon Rick Jr is in the game himself, selling drugs under the streetname White Boy Rick. Doing her best with a miserably thin role, Jennifer Jason Leigh is the FBI’s lead officer.
There’s some nice father-andson drama here that points to the universal experience of dads who find themselves demoted from om hero to deadbeat loser in the eyes of their sons as they grow older; der; McConaughey brings real energy ergy and warmth to Rick Sr. What’s ’s missing is perhaps a sense of f the wider social cost of Reaganite e drug policies. The issue is not that t the film focuses on a white kid, but that it doesn’t seem much h interested in the black lives hit disproportionately hard by the he war on drugs.