Taking place during Detroit in the 1980s, White Boy Rick tells the story it wants but only to an extent.
The biggest thing that I felt could have been explored better were the unjust treatments towards Rick Wershe, Jr. (Richie Merritt). This is someone who became the youngest person to ever serve as an FBI informant. The fact that the FBI turned their backs on a deal is wildly upsetting. It isn’t unfair to say that Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) is angry at them getting his son into the mess.
The elder Rick gets himself into trouble frequently with the authorities by attending gun shows. He dreams of one day opening a video store. Until then, he needs to make some sort of income. His getting caught, let alone bringing his underage son into the mix, was what got his son into the mess in the first place. One thing leads to another in this instance. Two FBI agents (Rory Cochrane and Jennifer Jason Leigh) and local narcotics Detective Jackson (Brian Tyree Henry) were able to recruit young Rick as an informant. As they start working with him on controlled purchases, their goals become increasingly ambitious. As if making him an undercover informant wasn’t enough, they require him to become a drug dealer. This has drastic side effects down the road.
It’s watching the FBI turning their backs on him that would make anyone angry. The law in place at the time worked against Rick Jr. While they made a deal with elder Rick, they were unable to free him as promised. This is the same justice system that put him there! How are they able to live with themselves after sending this underage child to jail? Where the father wanted to put an end to their economical problems, the government has other things on their agenda.
To get into their heads, we have to understand what was happening in Detroit. The city was a mess with an automobile industry collapse and a drug epidemic. And yet you have this family that didn’t bother moving to another area. They chose to stay put.
McConaughey is able to capture how this father cares for his children and wants them to lead better lives. Unfortunately, the actor alone isn’t enough to save the film nor is the performance from newcomer Richie Merritt. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a fantastic debut on his part. They do as well as they can with the material they were given. It just isn’t enough. The script could have gone more into how the city of Detroit let them down by way of exploring the politics of it rather than let it slide by.
Despite the Telluride launching pad and subsequent Toronto showing, White Boy Rick is seemingly a large disappointment on many levels.
DIRECTOR: Yann Demange
SCREENWRITERS: Andy Weiss and Logan & Noah Miller
CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, RJ Cyler, Jonathan Majors, Eddie Marsan, with Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie