White Boy Rick Review: Strong performances bolster a surprisingly emotional story



Can a movie about cocaine and guns leave an emotional impression?

Despite its silly name, White Boy Rick is actually a crime drama sent in 1980’s Detroit. Based on a true story, the movie stars Richie Merritt as the titular White Boy and Matthew McConaughey as his father, Richard Senior. Rick Senior sells both legal and illegal firearms. His goal is to save up enough money to open a chain of VHS rental shops. As Rick Senior tries to accomplish his dream, opposing forces become involved in his son’s life.

The acting in White Boy Rick is tremendous. Matthew McConaughey steals every scene he is in. Rick Senior is a multi-faceted character. He is not an abusive father nor is he willing to idly sit by as his son commits illegal acts. Instead, he is a caring dad who wants the best for his son and drug addicted daughter. Since Rick Senior has to deal with so much, McConaughey needs to express a wide range of emotions. Whether it is calmly trying to teach his son a life lesson or yelling at his daughter Dawn, McConaughey expertly conveys the emotion needed.Merritt also does well in his role. At first, it seems as if Merrit has one stoic face and a monotone voice. It is almost as if the newcomer is intimidated by sharing so much screen time with the imposing McConaughey.  As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Merritt is not incapable of expressing the needed emotion. Instead, the audience sees Rick Junior is a young boy who is in over his head. He is simply trying to seem like he is in control in an uncontrollable world.

The setting of White Boy Rick is perfect. Set in 1980s Detroit, the movie gives off a constant air of poverty, despair and, hopelessness. What makes it work so well is the tone never seems forced. Shots show abandoned buildings and garbage in vacant lots, yet characters are not constantly complaining about their surroundings. The audience is allowed to take in and analyze everything they are seeing. The best example is Rick and his family. The Wershes may not live a privliged life, but the focus is not so much the poverty but how they want to better themselves. 

On the surface, White Boy Rick is a movie about the pitfalls that come with dealing in drugs and illegal guns. At its heart however, this is a story about one man trying to improve his family’s life. Rick Senior is the doting father who only wants the best for his two children. He is single minded in his video store goal and truly feels it is the solution to all of his family’s problems. This isn’t about “one last score and I’m out.” Rick Senior simply wants enough money for his family to live comfortably. Few drug stories have the emotional impact of White Boy Rick. What makes the film so moving is the bond between Rick Senior and Rick Junior. The bond between the two is established in the opening and gets stronger as the plot progresses. The two share moments both good and bad that demonstrate the love the two have for each other. The movie impressively uses the give and take that fathers and sons naturally have with each other to make both characters more likable.

White Boy Rick is a film that will surprise many. While Matthew McConaughey delivers his usual top notch performance, the rest of the cast exceeds all expectations. On top of that, the story goes beyond a typical drug tale and becomes a moving story about family.

White Boy Rick
Is it good?
White Boy Rick effectively uses cocaine and guns to tell an emotional story about the relationship between a father and his only son.
Powerful conclusion
Though she does not get as much screen time, Bel Powley is great as Dawn Wershe
The father-son dynamic is well written (and not just limited to the main characters)
Great use of setting and pacing
McConaughey threatens to overshadow his young co star at times
There is a reason for it, but what a horrible name for a movie
8.5
Great