“White Boy Rick”

 

            “White Boy Rick” is based on the true story of Ricky Wershe, Jr., who apparently served the most time ever in a Michigan prison for a non-violent offense:  30 years. But that's not to say he was a naive innocent.

            Ricky (Richie Merritt) is raised by a Dad who deals guns out of the trunk of his car.  From his point of view, Richard Wershe, Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) is just a guy trying to get by.  His wife left him, and he's raised his son, Ricky, and his daughter, Dawn (Bel Powley) as best he can, which is hardly exemplary.  He takes his son to a gun show, where he hoodwinks a dealer out of a couple of fake Uzis by threatening to turn him in for offering to sell to his underage son.

            Yes, Ricky has grown up a bit too fast.  Seeing little guidance from his Dad, he tries to turn to his sister, but she decides to take up with a local drug dealer, and his Dad seems to just shrug and write her off.  So Ricky seeks out the bad boys of the neighborhood, who are themselves dealing some drugs.   Ricky walks into their lair and offers to sell them some of his Dad's guns.  They admire his chutzpah.  And they can see some benefit in a having a white boy as a front for them, since they are all black.  So suddenly Ricky has a new set of friends.

            It's not long before Ricky draws the attention of the local gendarmes, who are trying to bust the local drug dealers, and soon they are recruiting Ricky as their “mole,” since he has the kind of access that they don't.  All this notoriety, and Ricky is still underage.  And still immature enough to not realize how dangerous his actions are.  He has unprotected sex with a girl he barely knows.  He tells the law that he isn't going to help them anymore, which means he loses their protection, as well.  He mistakenly thinks that the local gang has completely accepted him as one of their own, unadvisdely letting down his guard around them, because he trusts them.  He tries to convince his Dad to go and do an intervention for his sister, whom he fears has become a drug addict.  Worst of all, he convinces his Dad that there's some real money to be made in the drug business, and already knows the players and the program.  Such hubris at such a young age.

            Though Ricky's irascible grandparents get honorable mention, because they are Piper Laurie and Bruce Dern, and Richie Merritt plays Ricky with some endearing wide-eyed innocence contrasting with his tough-guy talk, it's really Matthew McConaughey who steals the show.  In recent years he's been specializing in these shady character roles, and here we simultaneously admire his pluck and want to throttle him for his irresponsibility.  Few people in this film seem to be considering the consequences of their actions, and everybody pays a price for their unbridled impulsivity. Director Yann Demange takes us back to the 1980's, complete with the big old sedans and the garish clothing styles.  Though it's a sobering, gritty morality tale, there are just enough tender spots to make the characters seem compellingly human, even if frustratingly flawed.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association