By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Since his Academy Award-winning turn in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Matthew McConaughey
has had a few movies such as “Gold,” “Free State of Jones” and even “The Dark Tower” that didn’t quite ignite the box office.
Yet, his latest offering “White Boy Rick,”
which is set in 1984 and based on a true story, is garnering considerable buzz. And for good reason. McConaughey is sensational as Rick Wershe Sr., a low-life, gun hustler, former drug dealer/addict and overall loser of a father.
His daughter Dawn (Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) is a heroin addict and his son Rick Jr. (a terrific debut by Richie Merritt) is pretty much an extension of him too.
Rick Sr. has plans to earn a decent living one day by opening a chain of video stores. However, life keeps getting in the way. For starters, he has to often look after his crazy grandparents: Roman (Bruce Dern, “Nostalgia”) and Verna (Piper Laurie, TV’s McGyver”). Plus, trying to keep Dawn off drugs and her slacker boyfriend is a daunting task.
Things go even further off the rails for Rick when FBI Agents Alex Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh, TV’s “Atypical”) and Frank Byrd (Rory Cochrane, “The Outsider”) burst in his home and question him about where he gets all his weapons--notably his custom AK-47s.
Rick may be a lot of things, but a snitch isn’t one of them. And when he doesn’t give up the names of the local gun suppliers, they put pressure on Rick Jr.
The FBI and a detective (Brian Tyree Henry, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) manage to convince Rick—who is only 14-years-old--to work for them as an undercover informant.
The goal is for Rick Jr. to get inside the gun and drug operation of the Curry boys; Johnny 'Lil Man' (Jonathan Majors, “Hostiles”), Leo 'Big Man' (hip hop artist, YG, aka Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson) and Rudell “Boo” (RJ Cyler, “Scream: The TV Series”) so that Rick can make controlled buys and the FBI can build a case against these guys.
Things start out easy for Rick. Almost too easy. I couldn’t help but wonder while watching “White Boy Rick” if this story played out this way because these gangsters sure seemed incredibly receptive and trusting to this white boy.
But when Rick is in, he’s embraced like a true brother. It’s not long before he gets so blinded and caught up in the fast and furious lifestyle. Easy to see why too. When you have nothing and then get something, in this case nearly everything, it’s a pretty big deal.
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And when a shootout occurs not far from where Rick lives and a kid is killed, things begin to really spiral out of control.
Moreover, Rick Jr. learns the one girl he was seeing is pregnant with his child. Although, that’s really the least of his worries.
The police and FBI pull a fast one on Rick on January 15, 1988, he’s convicted and sentenced to life without parole for selling drugs.
What makes “White Boy Rick” so compelling is that Rick was sentenced under a Michigan law that stated anyone possessing 650 milligrams of cocaine automatically was sentenced to life.
However, that law was repealed nearly 20 years ago, and Rick was just released last year. Rick Wershe Jr. became one of the longest-serving nonviolent juvenile offenders in Michigan’s history.
With "White Boy Rick” director Yann Damange (“71”) and screenwriters Logan and Noah Miller and Andy Weiss manage to shine an important light on just how corrupt and out of control law enforcement and the American judicial system can be even to a white boy.
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Take A Peek At This Trailer For "WHITE BOY RICK"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.