Detroit, 1984: Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), street-smart, low-life dealer in illegal guns, shares plans for the future with 14-year-old son, Ricky (Richie Merritt). “All you’ve got to have is a vision,” he says. “You and I are going to open a video store — not one, but dozens.” They’ll need money, of course, so Ricky will join his father and sell guns to street criminals and other buyers. “Make ‘em believe they can’t have AK-47s without silencers,” he tells Ricky. That’s the beginning of Ricky’s downward spiral, leading to a life sentence in prison for drug crimes before he is 18 years old. (That’s not a spoiler — it’s a main point of this gritty, true-life drama.)
How does Ricky become a drug informant for the FBI? How does this lead to arrest for possession of cocaine? How does a teenager get life in prison for non-violent drug crimes? For answers, see “White Boy Rick,” a true story.
Matthew McConaughey and newcomer Richie Merritt are convincing as father and son in this single-parent dysfunctional family. They look for legal and illegal ways out of poverty. “Things are not going to get better, dad,” says Ricky. “Are you happy with who you are?” When Ricky infiltrates a drug gang for the FBI, his father says, “These guys you’re hanging around with, you’re going to get in too deep.” (He’s right, as it turns out.) Father and son also worry about Ricky’s older sister, Dawn, well-played by Bel Powley. She, too, cares for her family, but she’s addicted to drugs and runs away with her boyfriend, as her mother did. “You don’t look so good, Dawn,” Ricky says later. “Maybe you should think about coming home. I miss you.”
Others in the cast include Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane as FBI agents Snyder and Byrd. “Controlled buys is what we want you to do,” they say to Ricky, offering $200 for each buy. “$300,” says Ricky. Bryan Tyree Henry is Detroit PD detective Jackson. RJ Cyler is Rudell “Boo” Curry, Ricky’s best friend. Jonathan Majors is Boo’s father, Johnny “Lil Man” Curry. Piper Laurie and Bruce Dern have cameos.
“White Boy Rick” is a crime drama, based, as they say in Hollywood, on a true story. Directed by Yann Demange, from a script by Andy Weiss, Logan and Noah Miller, it’s the cautionary tale of Richard Wershe Jr., Detroit teenager, sentenced to life in prison for possession, with intention to distribute, of 8 kilos of cocaine. It’s the take-away from WBR: Do what Ricky does and lose 30 years of your life to minimum-sentencing laws, created during the “war on drugs.”
Rated R for pervasive language, drugs, violence, sex and brief nudity, “White Boy Rick” runs 110 minutes. Difficult to follow, but a compelling story.
Lesson from “White Boy Rick,”
A cautionary tale:
If you do what he did,
Like him, you’ll land in jail.