Teenage drug tycoon and FBI informant becomes cinematic star in White Boy Rick (2018)

By Gabriella Barthe, Staff Writer

The FBI’s youngest informant turned drug-selling powerhouse, Richard Wershe Jr. gained the spotlight yet again after his likeness graced theaters in White Boy Rick – a film based off of his life and involvement in the illegal drug and firearms circuit.

Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt) starts the film as a 15-year-old, while his father Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) is illegally selling unregistered firearms and homemade silencers.

When the FBI begins taking notice, Rick Jr. becomes an informant and distributor without his father’s consent.

The FBI’s involvement led Rick to a life of dealership on his own until he was ultimately caught with eight kilograms of cocaine and sentenced to life in prison. 30 years after his original sentence, Rick was released due to changes in the laws. Though, Rick was in jail until 2017 for drug crimes he committed at the age of 15.

White Boy Rick tries to tell the story of the Wershe family – from the eldest daughter Dawn’s drug addiction, to Wershe Sr.’s dream of owning a video rental store, to White Boy Rick’s brush with death.

By the end of the film 2 years have past, Rick Jr. has a child, has been shot, and is facing jail time for the rest of his life but his child’s mother isn’t seen in the film after he meets the baby. The mother is barely in the movie at all.
All of the women in the film are fleeting characters.

His grandmother, child’s mother and the mayor’s niece all show up in a handful of scenes and rarely speak if not for a single exchange with Rick to show some pivotal life moment that is never addressed beyond that point.

Rick’s older sister Dawn has the largest presence due to her drug addiction being a major driving force in Rick’s actions.

Yet, the film never fully explains why Rick chooses to be involved in the drug ring despite his sister’s addictions. If anything, it makes hints as to why he shouldn’t be, to which Rick makes no response.

Overall, the acting was well done. Each of the actors brought an understanding of their characters to their performance which lends to a rather believable story despite its surprisingly unbelievable premise.

Paired with excellent audio choices and standard cinematic shots, the film comes across as relatively average. Though when looking into the actual content it’s hard to walk away from the film pleased.

With the cinematic aim to tell the unbelievable story of how the FBI created a rich 15-year-old cocaine kingpin, the producers perpetuated a racist narrative of white men being above the law. The focal point of the movie is a white family and how the selling of drugs affected their lives. Very little effort is made to demonstrate how anyone else’s lives are affected in the film as is made evident by the constantly disappearing women in the story.

Throughout the film, characters point out to Rick that he’s different. He won’t get in trouble. He won’t face a life sentence in jail for something he didn’t do. He won’t be targeted by police, and he isn’t – until he flies too close to the sun.

When he tries to cut a deal with the FBI the audience is left with the feeling that Rick was wronged by them. He was led into a life of crime, used as a pawn to catch multiple drug lords and dirty cops, and then thrown to the wolves when he was no longer needed.
The film ignores the fact that most of the people Rick interacted with throughout the film are dead or in prison. It ignores the fact that his father also committed numerous crimes and didn’t face consequences.

White Boy Rick ends with the typical where are they now and a recording of Rick speaking on how no one in the prison system he lived in believes he should have been there for as long as he did. It tries to make audiences feel that a white kid facing a life in prison charge and serving 30 years in jail is an injustice even though he committed the crime.

Despite glaring issues in content portrayal, White Boy Rick is still a well-made film cinematically. Though, nothing truly remarkable can be said of it.

If you’re interested in true crime and are looking for something to satisfy your movie fix, this might be an option, but you may be better off saving your money.

PHOTO COURTESY: VARIETY

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