Film Review: White Boy Rick (dir by Yann Demange)


Last night, as a part of my attempt to get caught up with the films of 2018, I watched White Boy Rick.

As you might guess from the title, this film is about a white boy named Rick.  It’s based on the true story of Richard Wershe, Jr., who grew up on the streets of Detroit.  His father sold guns out of the trunk of his car and, by the time he turned 14, Rick was running with drug dealers and street gangs.  (The fact that he was white while all of his friends were black is what led to him getting his nickname.)  Rick became an informant for the FBI and, according to Wershe, the government helped him build up his reputation by supplying him with the drugs that he would then sell on the streets.  When the FBI eventually decided that Wershe was no longer a useful asset, he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to life in prison.

The story seems like one that has the potential to say a lot that needs to be said about not only the economic realities of life in a dying city but also about the role that race plays in America’s often misdirected “war on drugs.”  Unfortunately, the film falls flat because, with the exception of a few scenes, it never really convinces us that Rick was really worthy of being the subject of a film.  While the film surrounds him with interesting supporting characters, Rick himself remains something of a cipher.  Rick is played by a young actor named Richie Merritt.  Merritt’s has the right look for the character but you never get the feeling that there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Rick comes across as just being a moron who got lucky and then, eventually, not so lucky.

The supporting cast fares a bit better.  For instance, Matthew McConaughey plays Rick’s father with just the right amount of manic energy and Bel Powley has a few harrowing scenes as Rick’s drug addicted sister.  Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie don’t get to do much as Rick’s grandparents but it doesn’t matter because they’re Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.  (All Bruce Dern has to do to make a character interesting is look at the camera.)  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays one of Rick’s FBI handlers with the perfect hint of subversiveness.  You’re never quite sure whether she’s messing with Rick’s life because she’s incompetent or because she’s enjoying it.  Unfortunately, the supporting characters are often so interesting that Rick often gets overshadowed.  He’s a bystander in his own story, which may have been the film’s point but, from a storytelling point of view, it hardly makes for compelling viewing.

Admittedly, there are a few memorable scenes to be found in White Boy Rick.  At one point, Rick goes to a wedding at the mayor’s mansion and he’s a sight to behold in his blue tuxedo.  In another scene, it’s explained to Rick why, when it comes to being arrested, charged, and incarcerated, the stakes are very different when you’re black than when you’re white.  In scenes like that, you kind of get a hint of White Boy Rick could have been if it had been centered around a more compelling character.

As it is, though, White Boy Rick is well-made but kind of dull.  It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions for June


We’re nearly halfway through 2018 and it’s time for me to once again post my somewhat random Oscar predictions!

As usual, these predictions are a combination of instinct or wishful thinking.  Do I really think that Orson Welles’s final film will dominate the Oscars?  Well, why not?  It’d be a great story if it happened.  The same goes for Black Panther becoming the first comic book movie to receive a best picture nomination.  It’d be nice if it happened and, with most of the contenders still unseen, there’s no reason to arbitrarily dismiss the film’s chances.

Based on the reaction that it received at Cannes, I’ve added Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman to my list of predicted best picture nominees.

As always, take these predictions with a grain of salt.  Some of these films and performers will be nominated.  (First Man, for instance, seems like a lock.)  Many of them will not.  If nothing else, my monthly predictions always seem to be useful for a good laugh in retrospect.  And there’s nothing wrong with that!  The predictions that don’t come true are often even more fun than the predictions that do.

It should also be remembered that some of the films listed below don’t even set release dates yet.  Some of them might not even open this year.  There are other films — like Burden — that seems like they should be contenders but they’ve yet to get a distributor.  And then there’s Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which is scheduled to be released by Netflix in 2019 but it’s always possible that film could be moved up on the schedule.  If The Irishman does get a last-minute December release, chances are that the Oscar race will be dramatically altered.

Or maybe not.  Remember how Silence was a front runner all through 2016, just to end up with one nomination?  It’s hard to predict which films will have “that Barton Fink feeling.”

(Yes, I’m currently watching Barton Fink.  Thinking about the Oscars will enjoying a film from the Coen Brothers?  Life is good, as my twitter girl crush often puts it.)

Please be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, and May.

Best Picture

BlackKklansman

Black Panther

Boy Erased

First Man

If Beale Street Could Talk

Mary, Queen of Scots

The Other Side of the Wind

A Star is Born

White Boy Rick

Widows

Best Director

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk

Spike Lee for BlackKklansman

Steve McQueen for Widows

Orson Welles for The Other Side of the Wind

Best Actor

Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy

Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

Willem DaFoe in At Eternity’s Gate

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Robert Redford in The Old Man & The Gun

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Widows

Felicity Jones in On The Basis of Sex

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Saoirse Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Supporting Actor

Timothee Chalamet in Beautiful Boy

Russell Crowe in Boy Erased

Adam Driver in BlackKklansman

Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

Best Supporting Actress

Claire Foy in First Man

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erased

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Margot Robbie in Mary, Queen of Scots

Sissy Space in The Old Man & The Gun

Here’s The Trailer For White Boy Rick!


Here’s the trailer for White Boy Rick!

Now, White Boy Rick is based on a true story that’s actually pretty interesting.  At the age of 14, Richard Wershe, Jr. was the youngest criminal to ever become an informant for the FBI.  Of course, once the FBI got what they wanted from him, Wershe was left on his own and, when he was 17, he was arrested for selling cocaine and sentenced to life in prison.  Wershe, who was finally paroled in 2017, claims that the harsh sentence was politically motivated and that he basically learned how to become a successful drug dealer through his work for the government.

It’s a great story and, with more and more people questioning both drug prohibition and national law enforcement, a timely one.  The film’s got a good cast, with Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bel Powley, Rory Cochrane, Piper Laurie, and Bruce Dern all in supporting roles.  The director, Yann Demange, previously directed the great ’71 and is definitely an up-and-coming filmmaker.  Rick is played by a Richie Merritt, who will be making his film debut in the leading role.

As for the trailer itself, it’s effective.  I had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue and it’s hard to really judge Merritt’s performance based on what’s present here.  But I like the look of the trailer and the music is damn near perfect.

Some are saying this movie might be an Oscar contender.  We’ll have to see!