Hot Take: If you loved the trailer, you’ll wonder what the heck movie you’re watching. Tell me why I’m supposed to feel sympathy for a crack dealer again?
Earlier this year, one of the worst films of 2018 hit theaters when Gotti rolled in to remind us that John Gotti wasn’t all that bad of a guy… even though he was a murderer, loan shark and ran illegal gambling through the mob. They didn’t spend much time on that side of things and all I can remember is John Travolta’s ridiculously poor over-the-top portrayal at this point but it was one example how the filmmaker can control the narrative and attempt to portray an unsavory character in a more positive light. Then there’s White Boy Rick. Set in the 1980s, the mostly true story of Rick Wershe, Jr., also known as “White Boy Rick” who was an FBI informant in his early teen years and later became a cocaine dealer before he turned 18. The depressing tale details Rick’s ascension to power, money and women before eventually the world comes crashing down on him. It’s told in such a way that seeks sympathy for Wershe as if he were a victim and while there are reasons to feel sorry for Wershe who was manipulated by the FBI at a young age and used by his father to help with moving illegal guns, for the most part, Wershe had opportunities to take a different path and didn’t.
Starring newcomer Richie Merritt as its titular character, White Boy Rick follows then 14 year-old Rick to a gun show with his father Rick Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) where they’re able to use Rick Jr.’s age and older look to blackmail the gun show dealer into a better deal for automatic weapons. Later, Rick Sr. modifies those guns with silencers and then Rick Jr. sells the guns to local drug dealer Johnny Curry (Jonathan Majors). “White Boy Rick” begins to associate with that crew and is approached by two FBI agents (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) to make some drug buys to provide intel on the local drug scene. Additional plots feature Rick’s sister Dawn (Bel Powley) and her battle with drugs, the father/son relationship between Rick Jr. and Sr. and Rick Jr.’s eventual turn to full fledged drug dealer when there’s an opening after many of the local dealers are arrested.
While the story is interesting, the level of sympathy filmmaker Yann Demange and writers Andy Weiss, Logan Miller and Noah Miller seek for its subject is overbearing. The film spends more time than necessary on Rick Sr. with the only reasonable explanation being the film has access to one of today’s best actors in McConaughey. However, there is a such thing as too much of a good thing and his performance is a mild distraction at times as it pushes the main tale to the side. Choices like this make the film overstay its welcome and while the film seems to be a good idea on paper (as well as in the trailer), the tale which feels as if it should be sensational but ends up being all over the place and actually becomes boring.
Without remorse, the film goes all-in playing the sympathy card for “White Boy Rick” and instead of just entertaining and informing, White Boy Rick seeks redemption for its main character who essentially is used by the system but also uses the system to his advantage for as long as he could. It’s hard to feel sorry for a drug dealer and gun runner even if that person is a teenager surrounded by terrible influences. White Boy Rick boils down to a missed opportunity and could have a used a more even handed narrative to prevent what becomes an overwrought final act.
Even too much McConaughey sounds like a good thing.
Glamorizing the rise and lamenting the fall of a drug dealer is getting old.