Movie Review: What Richard Did
Pros:A real plant-you-in-the-moment, gripping story and more great output from Irish talent.
Cons:A more challenging conclusion could have matched the strength of the body of the film.
A Dublin teenager has his world crumble around him. A small action has huge consequences in this drama from the director of Garage and Adam and Paul.
What Richard Did won’t ever enter into the Misleading Movie Title Hall Of Fame (see The Squid and the Whale, The Constant Gardener). Instead, the title is a device that has you waiting tetchily to find out what exactly it is that Richard has done.
Drawn from a summer rite-of-passage mould, what Richard (Jack Reynor), an outgoing, popular teenanger from southside Dublin, has done might be positive, hopeful, romantic, aspirational or, as happens here, an action that sees his life crumble in mere minutes. That waiting and wondering keeps the viewer uncomfortably gripped. At least, it kept this writer gripped and in an unplanned 4D effect, there was a swift, sudden kick to the back of my chair at a crucial moment which showed there was more than one soul in the cinema effected by the sudden and brutal event on screen.
There are no cheap red herrings as we are introduced early to Richard, his family, his circle of friends and their post-Leaving Cert summer. There is a subtle trickle of uncertainty that swells as we get to know Richard. His is the only character given any serious screen time, but for all his confidence and his leading role in his group of peers, there are distanced looks and stern moments that unsettle. Is there a psychological battle ahead, as his new relationship looks frayed at the edges? Are we being lined up for an issue-driven tale drawn from the front pages? Or is there a complete curve ball to come? However much the build-up might have you wait, the pay-off comes and with gusto, and the film enters a more panicked state, as a battle of conscience begins.
It is meaningless to flag Reynor as a name to watch – success is transitory and can’t be planned – but however his IMDB page fills out, he has done great work here. His delivery is natural and contributes hugely to to the effect of the film; the Dublin setting might instil a sense of reality for an Irish viewer but the fleeting, mixed emotion and lack of control that is effortlessly delivered in his character will put you in his shoes. The movie builds and falls emotionally with Richard’s dilemma and the stoic control of his public self is challenged by his reality as a young man with a huge burden to carry. He cracks in one scene, surely one of the movie moments of the year, admitting an awful truth to his father, but even so, the weight of what he has done becomes more leaden.
The film is a platform for new talent on the whole, with a smattering of familiar faces such as Lars Mikkelsen and Lorraine Pilkington in small roles, but still roles constructed to line Richard’s world with comfort and stability that put his situation in such stark contrast. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, a man who has already put Dublin on screen wonderfully, though with a heroin-addled haze, in Adam and Paul, What Richard Did looks clean and crisp but with a somewhat lush look. The movie keeps company with Grabbers and Silence as a wonderful cross section of Irish filmmaking talent portraying comedy, reflection or tragedy in engaging, contemporary ways.
As an addendum, the use of open-ended final scenes seems to have become a hallmark of filmmakers of late looking to illicit some thought from the audience; thoughtfulness can be shown in a definite end as well.