By Marc S. Sanders
Matthew McConaughey is probably my favorite actor that I somehow always forget about. He always has that god Ol’ boy dialect and yet he hides it so well no matter what role he plays, whether he’s a space traveler in a heavy sci fi drama like Interstellar, an AIDS victim drug dealer in Dallas Buyers Club (his Oscar winning performance), or an over the top unscrupulous stock trader in The Wolf of Wall Street. In White Boy Rick, he’s an unscrupulous black market Detroit gun dealer. Selling out of the trunk of his car, he justifies his trade by telling his son Rick it is a constitutional right to own a gun and sweetening his sales with silencers by metaphorically comparing them to up selling fries to go with a burger. His intensity as this sleazy guy is downright remarkable. A great moment for me was simply a close up of him walking down the hallway of a hospital. This guy knows how to perform in front of a camera. I’ll say it again. His intensity is remarkable. He’s seemingly worthy of an Oscar nomination. Yet, it’s likely come December this film just won’t be remembered.
The title character was first a junior gun runner per the inspiration of his father and was quickly recruited by the FBI to be an inside buyer and seller to the drug houses in the Detroit slums during the mid 80s. In a community of black criminals, with one major player married to the sister of the city’s mayor, Rick earns his moniker of White Boy Rick by speaking the lingo and dressing the part. Thick gold chains with large jeweled crosses are a status symbol. So naturally Rick shows his prominence by donning a Star of David. It makes no difference if he’s unaware of its Jewish symbolism. His bling builds his stature. From FBI insider, Rick gradually moves on towards dealing drugs on his own street smarts and a means to sustain himself along with Dad and his junkie sister as well as his grandparents. He’s a natural.
Newcomer Richie Merritt is very good in the part of Rick and holds his own against McConaughey. His attitude overcomes his father’s experience. He’s smarter than his father actually and he’s a better talker than his father. His one flaw was not realizing his inevitable future.
The director is Yann Demange, a filmmaker I’m not familiar but a skilled guy nonetheless. He captures a dirty snow covered Detroit in 1984-87 very well with dark crack houses, wet streets and a crowded skating arena. These locales are where these guys dwell. The photographery looks worn out and offers that uncozy winter feel. The only glamour of this atmosphere comes mink coats worn by the dealers and their gaudy Run DMC gold chains.
Here’s hoping I’m wrong and this small film gains some more traction and following. It’s a good true story that I never heard of. It’s got a solid cast that easily blends into this dangerous underground, and its performances are worthy of recognition during awards season.