White Boy Rick
White Boy Rick is a big, zany true crime story that plays like gangbusters moment to moment without ever quite settling into a consistent tone or message. It’s easy to see why the movie was made and it’s easy to sell when reduced down to a sensationalistic trailer. However, string the story along to feature length in a way that all but demands further research into the troubling story and it doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny. The film does feature one of Matthew McConaughey’s funniest performances in years, though
Amusingly thin-moustached teen Richie Merritt stars as the titular White Boy Rick, an industrious youngster who’s good at making the best out of bad situations, but not particularly good at thinking ahead. We’re introduced to Rick at a gun show where the 14-year-old and his charming scumbag father also named Rick (McConaughey) con their way into a collection of AK-47s at prices that would make Costco weep. In between offering his son questionable advice in a series of rambling monologues, Rick Sr. likes to sell illegal firearms out of the trunk of his car to support his family. Teen Rick takes up a part-time gig as his assistant and soon sells those AKs to some local drug dealers who probably shouldn’t be gifted such things.
The Ricks may think they’re slick, but the FBI is all over their basement boomsticks. A pair of agents played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane quickly track down the young Rick and blackmail him into being an informant. Specifically, they want him to buy and distribute drugs for them so that they can track the product and monitor the players. He does it and things even go well. But these sorts of successes tend to be fleeting, don’t they? Soon enough, li’l Rick is in the hospital, arrests are made and the deal’s off. That leads to the kid starting up the business again purely for profit, which inevitably lands him in jail for an irrationally long time despite the fact that the feds taught him how to turn crack into cash in the first place.
I know, I know. Spoilers, right? Well, this is a true story that’s very much public record. It’s also necessary to get out all of the details to explain one of the major problems of the film. Obviously, the movie is told entirely from White Boy Rick’s perspective, and obviously he comes off well, a victim in a war between cops and drug lords that he never truly understood. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. According to this description, the 14-year-old kid who always packed a gun only used it once when he got arrested. That doesn’t seem right. More than that, while the movie makes a big tragedy out of Rick’s incarceration (which is a bit unfair in context), it leaves out important details like the fact that Rick did recently get acquitted, yet remains imprisoned for a crime he committed while locked up. There are a lot of unpleasant questions worth asking about that this movie doesn’t bother with. The rambling script can’t be bothered with such things and has a hard time cobbling together a coherent narrative.
That’s all problematic. Director Yann Demange (’71) fudges the facts for the sake of fun. On the plus side, Richie Merritt is a remarkable find, coming off as innocent and threatening simultaneously and easily carrying the film. McConaughey is heartbreakingly hilarious as the father, gifted a handful of the funniest lines that he’s gotten in years while also lending the role a sense of gravitas. Demange keeps things moving at a feverish pace and finds a nice balance of gritty drama and giddy comedy. As a work of entertainment, White Boy Rick is easy to recommend. Shame it’s not all fiction. That sours things.