A Teen FBI Informant: White Boy Rick
In 1980s Detroit, the Detroit police and the FBI had someone helping them to monitor illegal drug activity. He was a rather unusual insider. White Boy Rick tells the story of this teen over a four year period. Rick Wershe, Jr. (Richie Merritt) had been taught all about firearms by his gun-dealing father, Rick, Sr. (Matthew McConaughey). The teen then sells his father's wares to gang leader Boo Curry (R. J. Cyler), who admires the boy's courage. Eventually, the boy joins the gang, where he learns they also deal drugs. When he's alone, FBI Agents Alex Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Frank Byrd (Rory Cochrane), along with with Detroit detective Mel "Roach" Jackson, question Rick about the gang's activity. When a drug bust sends some of Boo's men to prison, Boo knows someone in his crew tipped the authorities, and vows to get even with the informant. True to his word, one of his men shoots and wounds Rick.
Now out of the gang and recovering from his wounds, Rick finds out that one of the women who met him during his gang time had fathered his daughter. His father stresses the importance of providing for his family when the elder Wershe meets his granddaughter. Rick, Sr., has his hands full, as his parents, Ray (Bruce Dern) and Vera (Piper Laurie) are aging and vulnerable to crime. In addition, the Wershe daughter, Dawn (Bel Pawley), has left home, addicted to drugs and soliciting for a man who supports her habit. Knowing he can make more money by selling drugs than he could with guns, young Rick turns to Art Derrick (Eddie Marsan), a dealer he'd come to know from his time with Boo. Art takes on Rick as a seller. but the FBI and police learn about this new activity. Rick gets arrested, and works to make a deal by naming Detroit cops who were complicit in the activity.
White Boy Rick, which is based on the life of the junior Wershe, is a good look at life in a part of Detroit where crime is not only a part of everyday life, but crime lured many into illegal activity. The elder Wershe was a part of it, but he wasn't of particular interest because his gun business was dwarfed by the drug business. His son, though, found himself drawn to the promise of big money. The movie is also about the importance of family, as Rick, Sr., shows his son in his own way. Rick, Jr., understands his father's words in a dangerous way. Even though this story has some unique elements, director Yann Demarge handles the Wershe tale in a pedestrian way. Conflicts are too easily resolved, and characterization is thin, save for the father and son.
McConaughey and Merritt make this film watchable. McConaughey's Rick certainly won't win any parenting awards, but he is smart about his trade and devoted to his children and parents. In one scene, Rick takes his son to a gun show and shows the boy how dealers don't always tell the truth about their wares. That allows the father to cut a deal to his liking. He still tries to help his son, despite his arrests. Merritt makes his movie debut as the title character, who takes the teachings of his dad to another level. He loves the flash, even buying a gold chain with a Star Of David, oblivious to its religious implications. He's also oblivious to the way the law works, in spite of cooperating with law enforcement. The real Wershe is heard at the end of the film.
Those who followed or have heard about Wershe's life know what became of him. White Boy Rick shows the story of a young man who didn't have the best of guidance, but still worked with the law whenever he was asked. Seeing what became of him as opposed to those who also stood trial with him shows how the law can frequently judge people unequally. Nobody should condone the criminal actions of Rick Wershe, Jr., but the crimes he committed came during a time where such crimes faced great scrutiny and lack of tolerance. The problem is that the drugs he dealt were - and are - a lucrative business for many involved. Nobody seems to have made much of an effort to differentiate the various levels of crime. As long as drugs retain a user base, others will be driven by the profit the trade brings. These are just some of the reasons why people don't heed the words of an old slogan and say no to drugs.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give White Boy Rick three stars. A boy who tried to balance good and bad.
White Boy Rick trailer
© 2018 Pat Mills