White Boy Rick is the true story of Rick Wershe Jr., who was a drug kingpin and FBI informant all before he could legally drive. It’s a film set in the mid-80s that had a chance to offer a very stylish portrayal of the time period and events. While many of the performances in White Boy Rick are top notch, there’s simply no flavor to the film. Find out more in our review of White Boy Rick.
The film is written by Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, and Noah Miller, and directed by Yann Demange, none of whom have particularly impressive writing or directing backgrounds. Their inexperience shows in White Boy Rick. While there are a few shining moments, and the film starts off strong, there’s no personality here. Here you have a film set in the mid-80s that follows the younger kingpin in America, and it feels more like a VH1 documentary than the stylish love letter to the 80s that it could’ve been. What could’ve been Stranger Things with a drug kingpin as the centerpiece instead of a supernatural theme, ends up being just another crime drama.
Newcomer Richie Merritt steals the show as the titular character, Rick Wershe Jr. His father, Richard Wershe Sr. is played by Matthew McConaughey, who is in fine form as you might expect. McConaughey’s performance is reminiscent of his run as detective Rust Cohle in HBO’s True Detective series. There’s a certain amount of sleaze to Rick Sr., but at the same time, you can see he loves his children and just wants the best for them. As a small-time arms dealer, it’s not hard to see where Rick Jr. gets his ambition from, but McConaughey’s character still has a lot of heart.
Most of the first and second act of the film sets up Rick Jr. so the audience is familiar with him and his family. He’s an interesting character, and Merritt plays him to perfection. He’s a hustler, but all he wants to do is make his dad proud and live the best life he can, from the perspective of a 14-year-old. There are many points throughout the film in which you’re meant to question which Rick Wershe is the father, and which is the son.
White Boy Rick starts to run into issues when it fails to explain the motivations of key characters such as kingpin, Johnny ‘Lil Man’ Curry (Jonathan Majors), FBI agents, Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Byrd (Rory Cochrane), or police detective Jackson (Brian Tyree Henry). Rick Jr. interacts with all of these characters frequently during the first half of the film, but when things start to turn sour, there’s no real indication of why things suddenly changed.
There’s a lot of setup in White Boy Rick, but very little payoff. The end of the film is impactful but feels empty. When you see how things turn out for a character you’ve spent the last two hours getting to know, it should mean something. Instead, the final act falls flat and leaves more questions than answers. There’s no follow-up from any of the key players outside of text that tells you what happened to their real-life counterparts.
If the film had spent less time building up Rick Jr. and more time dealing with his stint as a kingpin and how his meteoric rise impacted those around him (both positively and negatively), there might’ve been more of an emotional response at the end of the film. Instead, White Boy Rick offers a shell of a film that could have been so much more with the right mix of quality writers and a seasoned director. The stars of this film were impressive, but there was only so much they could do with the script and the direction they were given.
Synopsis: The story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
Director: Yann Demange
Writers: Andy Weiss, Logan Miller, Noah Miller
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley
Runtime: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.