“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