White Boy Rick (2018) is based on a true story about Richard Wershe Jr. There is an air of incredulity about it that often brings some laughs. Add to this compelling crime story beats delivered with solid performances from the leads, and it makes for an enjoyable experience. It does, however, suffer from too many storylines and characters…and some of the editing choices feel too rudimentary. Still, White Boy Rick was primarily worth the entire runtime of the film.
White Boy Rick is a crazy true life story
Richard Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt) has it kind of rough. His sister Dawn (Bel Powley) is a drug addict, his dad (Matthew McConaughey) is a dreamer who hustles guns illegally, and his best friends all work for a local drug kingpin. When approached by the FBI for information, Ricky tries to play dumb – but they threaten his family, so he decides to help. They begin training him and pushing him to start his own operation, and that’s when things spiral out of control.
This is Merritt’s first film, and he pretty much crushes it. There are a few lines of dialogue that he either didn’t deliver as strongly, or they were simply poorly written – but 90% of his role in this film is strong. He has just enough charisma to win over the characters in the film and the audience in the seats. The mannerisms he gives Ricky are a significant part of the performance, which sells the idea that this unexceptional person manages to win over pretty much everyone he meets; of course, not without raising a few eyebrows along the way.
McConaughey shows up to give a few monologues that he crushes each time, and there are some emotional performances he gets to give. Fortunately for the audience, McConaughey gives his top tier acting for this movie. The chemistry he has with Merritt only makes some scenes funnier, with others more emotionally wrenching. Both elevate the other’s performance, and make for some powerful scenes. There is a scene in particular where the two decide it’s time to intervene in Dawn’s life. She loves Ricky, but hates her father. It’s a tough moment, but it is expertly acted by all three involved.
There are other notable performances are from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, RJ Cyler, and Jonathan Majors. Of the cast just mentioned – Cyler, in my opinion, is the biggest highlight, but he doesn’t get enough to do in this movie…or in general. I’d love to see him in a buddy comedy, because his role here – as well as an introductory role in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) – is extremely funny. He has a natural presence on film that seems to just flow. There is a scene with him, Rick, and some of their friends go hunting for things to shoot under an overpass. The events that play out end up being both disturbing and hilarious, largely in part to Cyler’s reaction to the events.
When the credits rolled on White Boy Rick, and after the obligatory title cards filling in the blanks about the true events of the man involved, I sat a little longer than usual to get up. The story was compelling, shocking, and reminded me of how unfair the war on drugs had been. Rick was collateral damage in laws put in place to target primarily Black Americans (see 13th (2016) by Ava DuVernay on Netflix for more information). Yet, it was a story that I’d never heard about but was definitely intrigued by. White Boy Rick earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.