'White Boy Rick' (2018) Movie Review

Updated on December 24, 2018
John Plocar profile image

I am very, very white... I don't sell drugs, nor is my name Rick, but I'm pretty white. I'm clearly capable of reviewing this... totally.

It’s Another Chase For The American Dream

White Boy Rick is 2018’s crime film where the plot is simply a character striving to achieve the American dream via illegal means; similar movies with this plot would be Doug Liman’s American Made, Gold (also starring Matthew McConaughey), War Dogs, Scarface, Pain & Gain, etc. Some of these examples are great, some are okay, but the main factor at this point with this premise is that the direction is what sells the movie for me. There are just so many interpretations of this type of story that the direction is the only thing to truly differentiate between them all now. White Boy Rick has a solid enough direction of its own that I think it can hold its own against some of the others listed above, however I don’t believe it to be nearly as good as some of them either.

White Boy Rick Ain’t All That Slick

Rick Wershe Jr., or ‘White Boy Rick’ as many people call him, is a teenage boy that works with his father selling guns on the streets of 1980’s Detroit. One day the FBI comes around and they believe that Rick can help them out in order to take out the organized drug gangs flooding the neighborhoods. As a reward, Rick is allowed to keep any drugs and money given to him by the dealers as well as the feds, which leads ‘White Boy Rick’ to start his own drug dealing organization while still being an informant for the FBI.

This review may be somewhat odd, because for the most part the film is fine. The direction, like I mentioned, is solid. The writing is decent. The acting is generally well done. The editing is pretty good. The main story is the basic ‘falling into crime to get rich’ plot line that I’ve seen plenty times before, but that’s not my real issue with the movie; my issue is with ‘White Boy Rick’, the character and the actor playing him (Richie Merritt). Not that the actor was particularly bad, in fact for a first time cinematic performance he actually does alright. But there’s nothing to this character or this performance that made me care about him or what was going on with him. The way that Merritt plays this character lacks dimensionality or any sort of charisma, he’s just some punk kid that I honestly didn’t care if he lived or died through most of the movie. While believable as this punk kid, there’s no character arc that was able to invest me into him nor a backstory to make me feel intrigued by him. Rick supplied no personality to charm or grip me, he’s just this very bland character that I felt stuck watching go through a plot line that I’ve already seen a hundred times before. Again, I don’t think that Merritt is necessarily bad, he’s just clearly new at acting. Plus, it isn’t all his fault since it is up to the writer to make the character interesting to learn about and the director to help enhance the performance. As a first time actor, I do applaud his efforts and I do hope that he learns from this experience for whatever his next role may be.

Although it didn’t help much that every other character in the film is way more interesting and better acted than ‘White Boy Rick’ himself. Matthew McConaughey is acting his heart out in this film and he delivers a greatly, but unfortunately he’s a supporting character that gets maybe twenty minutes of screen time in this nearly two hour film. Not only is McConaughey’s performance great, but the writing of his character is far more fascinating than what’s going on with Rick. McConaughey plays the father of Rick and his sister Dawn (Bel Powley), who privately sells guns on the streets to basically anyone to hopefully make enough to open his own video store and finally have a legitimate business. Any time McConaughey was on screen I became invested in what was going on, I wanted to see what was going on with him. Even Rick’s sister Dawn I was more curious to see what was going on with her as this drug addict that runs away from home. Jennifer Jason Leigh comes into the movie as an FBI agent that wants to use Rick in order to take down the drug syndicate going on in Detroit and I felt more engrossed with her and the other FBI agents than Rick. Literally everyone else on screen either has a more interesting backstory, plotline, or performance going on here outside of Richie Merritt and his character. Yes, I know that this is based on a true story so it’s kind of difficult to leave out the main character of something that actually happened, but there needed to be something done in order for me to care about this kid. As it is, I really didn’t care about him except for at the very tail end of the film when it reveals what happened to Rick, then I did feel bad for what resulted from all that transpired. But that shouldn’t have taken nearly two hours to achieve, I should have cared from the start or at least early on somewhere.

I Didn’t Hate This Movie

The majority of the film is fine and even though I wasn’t invested in the character of Rick, I still was relatively entertained throughout most of the movie. There was just enough going on with all of the other characters and actors that I was able to find something to carry myself along. The cinematography is really good here, they make sure to give everything a very grimy and grungy feel. I feel as though I’m living in this dump of a place to the point where I wanted to hop in the shower immediately after watching. The direction the film took with how it wasn’t afraid to show the gritty side of these nasty situations, such as getting shot in the stomach. White Boy Rick shows the surgery and the aftermath in somewhat graphic detail when someone is shot in the gut. Or later on when Rick’s sister Dawn is going cold turkey from drugs and it shows how rough that whole scenario can get. The character arcs of Rick’s father and his sister were cleverly handled, I liked that they weren’t exactly trying to be rich or anything but simply wanted enough money to get by to live comfortably instead of living in constant struggle and that’s it. There are some funny lines of dialog scattered throughout and also occasionally a suspenseful moment here and there. The movie isn’t without its merits at all, it does a good job in a lot of different departments.

It’s Worth A Watch

Even though I bashed this movie for quite a bit, it really is only the lead character that’s the weak link, even then I don’t think that it breaks the film. It just kept it from being anything all that great in my eyes. There are other, better examples of a film like this certainly but I still thought that this movie was fine; there’s enough going on to provide at least some entertainment value from its supporting cast and if what I said about the character of ‘White Boy Rick’ doesn’t bother you than this will probably be more than serviceable. The movie is slightly overlong, so throwing this up on the television while preoccupying your time with secondary activities may be the best way to view this movie. So take my recommendation for what it’s worth, not a great or terrible movie by any stretch. I think it someone popped it on Netflix or rented it once they would be satisfied enough.

© 2018 John Plocar


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