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article imageReview: TIFF 2018: ‘White Boy Rick’ makes a lot of poor decisions Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 17, 2018 in Entertainment
‘White Boy Rick’ is the true story of a teen who fashioned himself a kingpin, but was really just a dumb kid making bad choices.
Regardless of where or how one grows up, they will be presented with many options throughout their lives that will inform the direction of their immediate and distant futures. Naturally, one’s environment and socio-economic class will influence the types of choices available, but the decision-maker is still responsible for the consequences of their actions — good or bad. The people one is surrounded by also impacts how they choose to live their lives, whether it’s to follow the herd or carve their own path. In White Boy Rick, an adolescent is faced with some difficult decisions with potentially extensive consequences.
Ricky Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt) is 14 years old and helps his dad, Rick Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), sell illegal firearms and accessories to the local gangs, earning him the moniker, “White Boy Rick.” Rick Sr. uses his legitimate business as a cover for purchasing certain guns, but that doesn’t fool the FBI who track weapons used in a drive-by back to the Wershes and use the information to coerce Ricky into becoming an informant. After several arrests are made and Ricky is free to start anew, he instead resolves to use the skills he gained while undercover to take over local drug trade operations. His wholesome goals are to make enough money to open a chain of video stores with his dad and convince his sister (Bel Powley) life will be better if she comes home, but that doesn’t alter the illegality of the means.
This is one of those movies that in spite of being based on a true story, one still has to wonder how people could be so dim-witted. The FBI strong-arming an underage teen into their employment seems entirely improper and not wholly legal. Rick Sr. allowing his son to call the shots and run the drug business from out of their home is ridiculous for so many reasons. Ricky’s selective memory that allows him to ignore all the terrible things that occurred as a result of the drug trade in order to embark on his own illegal enterprise is utterly irrational. The final straw is the father and son’s biggest mistake that in the end has the gravest consequences, which endure to this day.
Not quite as fantastical or glamorous as Blow, but at times it seems like Ricky is living a dream of plentiful friends, pretty girls and so much money that he’s buying jewelry of which he amusingly doesn’t even understand the religious significance. But other than knowing the “right” people, there’s nothing remarkable about Ricky… except that after a while, his snitching puts a pretty big target on his back. Merritt plays the part well, though he’s regularly outshined by Powley who is simply a more compelling actor. McConaughey is a supporting player in this story, but his smile could still charm the pants off anyone — or in this case, upsell anyone on anything — which is a confidence Rick Sr. has for better or worse bestowed upon his son.
In the end, it’s difficult to engage with a movie in which the main character is permitted to be so reckless. There’s certainly a case to be made about the punishment fitting the crime and the responsibility of law enforcement in Ricky’s wrongdoings, but those issues appear to be afterthoughts. Instead, this is the story of a kid who was made offers his non-white peers would never hear while trying to hang like one of the crew. As one character so aptly points out, they do “Black time” if caught while Ricky would do “White time” for the same crime, which would perhaps have been true if he hadn’t made such a monumental error.
White Boy Rick had its international premiere in the Special Presentations category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2018 coverage.
Director: Yann Demange
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt and Bel Powley
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