White Boy Rick may not add up to the sum of it’s parts, and while there are some great performances, impressive sets, and a great score, the film ultimately feels like a collection of scenes that lack a consistent narrative through line. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t work, but it’s hard to invest in the story when the film seems to end and begin multiple times. Perhaps this material would have worked better as a miniseries than a movie, but as a 110 minute film it’s sporadically entertaining.
Based on a true story, the film follows Ricky Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), a teenager living in Detroit who managed to become involved with illegal firearms dealing, the cocaine market, and the FBI all before he turned 18. The film focuses on Wershe’s rise to power, and the impact his actions had on his father (Matthew McConaughey). Undeniably, Merritt and McConaughey are the highlights of the film; their relationship is built on respect and love, and seeing the two try to provide for each other as they go down very different paths is emotionally resonant and at times heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, the film seems to have an issue with committing to the father/son story. While we obviously need to see how Wershe Jr. rose to prominence, the FBI subplot feels mismanaged and not thoroughly explained, and we spend too much time with Ricky and his criminal friends where we could’ve spend more time developing Ricky’s familial subplot. There are also some strange structural choices; the most exciting elements of the film happen roughly halfway through it’s runtime, which makes the second half feel less essential in comparison.
That being said, there’s still a lot to enjoy in White Boy Rick, particularly seeing how Ricky was both a victim of a corrupt government operation and how his desire to help his family led him down a dark path. Director Yann Demange, who’s brilliant debut ’71 was under seen, is able to craft exciting and energetic montages and transitions, which give the film a kinetic feel at times. The performances save a lot of the weaker elements, making White Boy Rick a solid, if unremarkable, crime thriller. Grade: B-