Been a while. We back, though. During my movie review hiatus, I visited the theater a few times. However, the films I saw didn’t inspire me. This summer has been disappointing to say the least. Conversely, this Oscar season is looking fire. To kick things off we have White Boy Rick. When I see Matthew McConaughey in a trailer, it intrigues me. His Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club defined his untouchable status. While I don’t love every film of his, you can count on solid acting damn near every time. His is the primary name here. Yet he is simply a lure for the real focal point. Based on a true story, White Boy Rick follows Richard Wershe Jr., the son of McConaughey’s character. Played by newcomer Richie Merritt, Rick Jr. receives his nickname from his group of friends who happen to run with Detroit hustlers.
The Wershe family have it rough. Stationed in mid-80s Detroit, Rick and his two kids live poor. During the film’s opening scene we see the Ricks attending a gun show in Ohio. While there, they hustle an AK dealer into a helluva bargain. It is then we learn Rick Jr. is only 14 years old. Rather than going to school, he accompanies his dad on his business ventures. He sells unregistered weapons to anyone who will purchase them. Although he is a legal weapons distributor, the guns he sells are not. The gates of Hell open when he adds silencers to his inventory. Rick Jr. aims to gain clout amongst his friends upon bringing his father’s modified weapons to their hideout. His best friend Boo is a part of Detroit’s drug kingpin family. Johnny “Lil Man” Curry runs the streets at the peak of America’s crack epidemic.
Following his acceptance into the Curry crew, Ricky finds himself at a crossroads. The FBI were keeping tags on the Curry clique. And they spotted White Boy Rick doing business with them. When the Bureau interrogates Rick Sr. for his sale of illegal weapons, they later offer his son a deal. If he agrees to help locate crack-cocaine hot spots, they will ignore his father’s crimes. Gotta love the federal government. Am I right? Since he apparently has nothing better to do, the troubled teen joins the ploy. Alright. It’s time for a quick pit stop. Despite my fascination with the validity of most of this story, the execution here bugged me. The only relationship that gets proper screen time is that of the father and son. This makes sense. Nevertheless, I found more than a few lapses in character development. Boo and Ricky’s bond feels vague at best.
The dialogue mentions their closeness multiple times. Yet there are no one-on-one scenes between them. I didn’t need a bunch. Just one. The two and their other friends go out and shoot rats and hit the skating rink together. Though none of these scenes add much to the emotion of the film. Ricky and his sister Dawn share a couple heartfelt moments throughout. But again, they aren’t set up properly, which hinders them from gaining true weight. Back to the plot nonetheless. As a hot shot informant, White Boy Rick toes the line between drug lord and accidental snitch. Due to his somewhat sloppy operation, Johnny catches wind of his activity. The Bureau bails him out of jail after he fires shots at the person who stole his grandfather’s car. Johnny explains to him that if his skin were brown he would’ve never seen the light of day. Facts, bro.
Following their talk, Ricky continues to acquire clout in the neighborhood. Eventually the Bureau collects enough evidence on Johnny to put him away for 20 years and the kid gets out of the game. However, his familial woes proceed. His sister Dawn left home within the first 15 minutes of the film. She ditched with her low life boyfriend. He left her out to dry. Due to this she has no one to stop her from falling victim to drug abuse. Ricky vows to bring his family out of poverty. His father detests his proposal at first. Nevertheless, after finding out he is a grandfather from Ricky’s one-night stand, he agrees to start hustling. Junior patrols the streets while Senior cleans the money through a video store he opens up with the drug money. This story ends how you might expect. Ricky is an infamous supplier.
Yet his old FBI buddies snatch him up after a couple years. Since most of this tale is true, this movie is pretty entertaining. It’s crazy how a kid worked with the law then broke the law in glamorous fashion. His complete lack of book smarts makes his brief reign even more impressive. As a story, it’s dope. However, as a film, it leaves a lot on the table. Director Yann Demange captured the dreariness of east side Detroit. And Merritt’s debut met my standards. His tears were believable, though his static appearance over a three-year period creates a blur-like experience. White Boy Rick is more like an expensive oral retelling than a unique kingpin visual. Forgettable camerawork sucks the emotion out of scenes despite noteworthy performances from McConaughey, Merritt and Powley. I’m glad somebody told this story. But this film ultimately neglected movie magic too much for my taste.