REVIEW: ‘White Boy Rick’ dragged down by story, characters

The latest gang/crime drama has released to theaters, but this one comes with a bit of a twist.

“White Boy Rick,” based on a true story, follows Rick Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt). Rick lives in Detroit with his father Richard (Matthew McConaughey), who sells firearms in poor neighborhoods. As this process continues, local and federal law enforcement agencies become aware of Richard’s dealings and look to put an end to it.

However, instead of arresting him, the FBI and local detectives give Richard an out by giving Rick the opportunity to be an undercover informant and make controlled drug deals. Rick takes the offer and begins to work undercover, but soon comes to terms with the dangers associated with the role.

“Rick” is a film that had a really good premise and some solid performances, but ultimately fumbles the execution in storytelling. One of the issues is that the setup feels rather rushed, with Rick becoming an undercover informant quite quickly. Another problem is that the film has a climax that occurs long before the movie is set to wrap up, leaving little to be invested in for the final act of the picture.

Throughout the picture’s entire runtime, there’s also a sense that the movie is only scratching the surface of the overall story that’s being told. The movie features all the basics of a crime drama, the tough cops, the tougher gangsters and the mean streets of Detroit, but it all feels shallow. Issues ranging from Rick’s emotions and mental state in dealing with being an informant to the poverty he and his family are living in are only slightly touched on here.

“White Boy Rick” also suffers from having characters that are vastly unsympathetic. While Merritt lends a strong performance in his first major role, the character is written to always be a hardened, stone faced individual. Very rarely does the audience get a deeper understanding of the emotions Rick is going through. While the plight is obvious, because of where he lives and who he has to deal with, Rick never becomes a person the audience can latch on to.

The movie was quite fortunate to have another phenomenal performance from Matthew McConaughey. The Oscar winner does fantastic work here, stealing every scene with his portrayal of the struggling father.

The film also earned points in how it captured the environment around the city. The neighborhoods where this takes place are presented in a very gritty way, creating a feeling of authenticity. The same can be said for the costume and set design work to recreate the look of the 1980s.

“White Boy Rick” covers a subject that’s incredibly important. I personally have reported on the topic of young confidential informants and it’s a very serious, surprising subject. However, the characters and the story are somewhat mishandled. There are enough positive aspects, though, to give it a 2.75 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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