White Boy Rick UV or iTunes Code
3.0 out of 5 stars A portrait of a decaying Detroit in
the mid-80's and a teenage FBI informant
September 24, 2018
Theater review. Possible spoilers.
This film by Yann Demange (“‘71”) is based on true events. It is set in 1980’s urban Detroit. White flight, decay, drugs and crime had enveloped the city. Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey at the top of his game) is still trying to make a living selling guns, legally – a licensed gun dealer he is quick to add. His wife had fled some unspecified time earlier, leaving Richard to raise is teenaged daughter Dawn (Bel Powley, so good in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and son, Richard (Rick), Jr. (Richie Merritt in his first acting gig). Richard’s parents live across the street and are played by long time Hollywood royalty, Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.
Dawn is strung out on crack and eventually moves in with her lover and later into a crack house. Rick has dropped out of school at age 15 and goes with his dad to the gun shows. He is just about as knowledgeable as his dad in the workings of handguns, rifles and shotguns. Richard also makes silencers in his basement which is illegal and he is on the radar of the FBI. Two agents working the streets for narcotics, Agent Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Annihilation”) and Agent Byrd (Rory Cochrane, “Hostiles”) along with a Detroit Detective Jackson (Brian Tyree Henry from TV’s “Atlanta”) corral young Rick to get information on the kingpin of the local drug gang. It seems Rick has managed to work his way into the good graces of the gang and its leader Leo ‘Big Man’ Curry (rapper YG) by selling them AK semi-automatic rifles…with silencers. They threaten Rick by telling him his father could go to jail if he doesn't help.
While Richard skirts the law in some ways he’s totally opposed to drugs, especially after what has happened to Dawn. It takes a long time for all of this to sort itself out and becomes confusing as to which character is part of the gang and which character isn’t. Who is Rick’s friend and who isn’t. There is also a long section in the film when Leo, his wife Brenda (Kyanna Simone Simpson, “Fist Fight”), Rick and the rest of the gang go to Las Vegas to see a boxing match featuring local legend Tommy Hearns. They don’t get the seats they were promised which embarrasses Leo.
Upon their return to Detroit, some of Leo’s gang take it upon themselves to take out the guy who “screwed up.” It doesn’t go well. This is all a set up for a scene where Rick sustains a severe injury. It is the beginning of the end for Rick as the police and the FBI agents who used him to bring down the drug gangs are unable to get him off as a drug dealer. In this era of severe sentencing for drug crimes, Rick is given a life sentence as a 17 year old. The FBI essentially abandoned him.
I’m not quite sure what the point, Demange and his writers (Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller), were trying to make. How unjust the system is, how bad a decaying Detroit was or simply laying out an unlikely story of how a teenage informant got life in prison (he served 30 years)! The movie runs 111 minutes but seems much longer. McConaughey’s performance makes it almost worthwhile.
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