White Boy Rick (3 stars)

White Boy Rick

Matthew McConaughey is back on form in an intermittently excellent crime thriller

With less impressive turns like his villain in The Dark Tower looming large, the 'McConaissance' – which saw Matthew McConaughey impress in an extraordinary run of roles, including Rust Cohle in HBO's True Detective and his Oscar-winning work in Dallas Buyers Club – is beginning to seem like a long time ago. This substantial supporting part in Yann Demange's biographical crime thriller White Boy Rick returns the star to the gritty, immersive fare that relaunched his career.

Richie Merritt plays Rick Wershe, a teenage boy growing up in the bleak landscape of 1980s Detroit. Rick's father (McConaughey) dreams of setting up a chain of video stores, but uses his son to hustle local arms dealers. A visit from law enforcement agent Alex Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) provides Wershe Jr with the chance to deflect attention from his father by gleaning some low-level intelligence for the FBI. But Rick's growing experience of Detroit's cocaine and club scene stretches his relationship with his dad, and with his drug-addicted sister Dawn (a formidable Bel Powley).

White Boy Rick is a gangster flick with an original slant: Rick is a non-violent character in a world full of guns. This breathes life into the clichés, as does robust support from Bruce Dern, Eddie Marsan and Piper Laurie. But the film falters in the closing stretches; Wershe served nearly 30 years in jail and the reasons are not clear here. There's a sense of injustice, but the emphasis is on the sympathetic detail of Rick's family life, never examining exactly how he fell foul of authorities.

Despite such issues, White Boy Rick often excels as a drama, with Merritt, McConaughey and Powley all on great form, and Demange ('71) flipping nimbly between cold, empty streets and sweaty, colourful clubs. It's an entertaining ride, but the lack of a knock-out punch lessens the impact of the careful work all round.

General release from Fri 7 Dec.

White Boy Rick

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 51min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Yann Demange
  • Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley
  • UK release: 7 December 2018

Rick (Merritt) is a teenage boy growing up in 80s Detroit, whose father (McConaughey) uses his son to hustle local arms dealers. A gangster flick with an original slant, sometimes vague on the details but with great performances from Merritt, McConaughey and Powley as Rick's drug-addicted sister. Intermittently excellent.