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White Boy Rick a weak Scorsese imitation

A crazy, true-crime script, a young acting talent and Matthew McConaughey contribute to a film with heart, but ultimately it fails to reach expectations.

By Ewan Marmo-Bissell, Second Year, History

A crazy, true-crime script, a young acting talent and Matthew McConaughey contribute to a film with heart, but ultimately it fails to reach expectations.

White Boy Rick is something of an identity crisis. On one hand, it vies to be taken in the same vein as a Scorsese classic, something like Goodfellas (1990) or the more recent The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). However, when tasked with conjuring the charm, or, actually, the slickness required to pull off that kind of tragedy, it limps over the finishing line.

Youtube / Netflix

The screenplay’s been floating around for over three years, when not one but three production companies were considering three separate screenplays of the story. It’s yet another entry into the based on a true story catalogue of biopics that were local news at the time, delivered to a wide audience. The man tasked with bringing Logan and Noah Miller’s screenplay to life is Yann Demange, formerly the director of Top Boy (2011-13), and his feature length debut ’71 (2014), about a British soldier in Belfast during the height of The Troubles.

As a fan of his first movie, I was curious about Demange would approach his second feature, a decidedly different type of story. White Boy Rick follows a 14 year old boy, the titular Rick, who is drawn into the illegal gun trading by his father (the effortlessly terrific Matthew McConaughey), and to keep him out of trouble with the authorities, he is coerced into assisting them in bringing down the drug dealers of Detroit. The supporting cast is completed by the head FBI agent Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Rick’s sister, played by Bel Powley, who some readers may remember as Daisy from hit CBBC show M.I. High (2007-14).

IMDb / White Boy Rick / Sony Pictures Entertainment

What is certainly admirable about the film is its attempt to focus on family, which - while not always engaging conflict or terrific drama - gives the film greater heart than it would otherwise have had. The trio of McConaughey, Powely, and our protagonist Rick (played by newcomer Richie Merritt) have genuine chemistry and ground the film’s more fantastic moments.

The glory and glamour of the crime world is a dry reservoir from which to pull content, so it has to be done in style. They never really nail the setting, except for a few scenes set in Las Vegas, but ‘80s Detroit looks like it could be ‘90s Chicago or ‘00s Seattle for all I know. A few needle drops can’t distract from the lack of style the film really has.

White Boy Rick struggles to pull this charm off, and you can’t quite tell if you’re supposed to be laughing with or at Rick as he descends further into the criminal underworld. It’s almost like being one of the lower members of these gangs, nervously making your way hoping that this is what you’re meant to be doing.

Despite this, we do have a charming lead in Richie Merritt. It is never easy to pull off a lead role in any film, let alone at the age of 17 and with an Oscar winner by your side. But Merritt is measured in his display, and is convincing despite the palpable screen presence of McConaughey. Merritt deserves plaudits for his work and hopefully he receives more lead opportunities in the future.

IMDb / White Boy Rick / Sony Pictures Entertainment

White Boy Rick has got real heart, but it won’t charm you into the crime world like a good Scorsese picture. It is one to watch for Scorsese fans though, even if it’s not quite the real thing.

Featured Image Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Can you believe the story of White Boy Rick is real?

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