In a year that includes biopics such as “BlacKkKlansman,” “First Man” and “Mary Queen of Scots,” director Yann Demange’s “White Boy Rick” seems likely to be forgotten. While the performances in “White Boy Rick” are relatively strong, there’s nothing about the film that stands out in any significant way.
This is not to say that the film lacks entertainment value — it just does not bring much to the table other than an unfamiliar true story and some commendable performances.
In many ways, the film is reminiscent of Rick Famuyiwa’s 2015 film “Dope.” Side by side, it’s easy to see that Famuyiwa’s film has much more charm than Demange’s biopic. This is certainly because of the serious and real subject matter with which Demange is dealing.
The film shares the true story of Richard Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), a 14-year-old high school dropout in Detroit who started selling drugs as an FBI informant in 1984. After the FBI stopped using him as an informant, Wershe kept selling cocaine in Detroit. He infamously became known as White Boy Rick.
The film chronicles Rick’s relationship with his father (Matthew McConaughey), his involvement with the FBI, his life as a drug dealer and his run-ins with the law. In the midst of everything, Rick starts to realize that his childhood has slipped away and he has grown up too quickly.
There are a number of ways in which “White Boy Rick” failed to capitalize on its potential.
The first of which is its inconsistent tone. While the film’s visual tone is quite compelling – with its 1984 retro look and its gritty atmosphere – the writing and directing seem to pull the film in separate directions. There are various moments in the film that feel light-hearted and sometimes downright goofy. These moments seem to clash awkwardly with many of the more dramatic scenes. That’s not to mention a few of the film’s more emotionally shocking scenes that do not mesh well with this brighter tone which Demange sometimes uses.
Other than the inconsistent tone, the story is not quite working to its full capacity either. The story shifts between three prominent aspects of Rick’s life throughout the film: his family, the drug dealers and the FBI. It seems like it’s the third part that gets the least amount of attention, and it’s to the detriment of the film.
Many of the legal aspects involving the FBI are sort of skimmed over, which makes it difficult to follow what exactly is Rick’s situation. This ultimately contributes to the far-too-speedy final act, which leaves the audience with a sort of anticlimactic ending.
Unfortunately, “White Boy Rick” is a run-of-the-mill biopic that does nothing to call attention to itself.