Synopsis: The story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
Hearing in 2003 that Matthew McConaughey was going to one day be a last bastion of important cinema coming out of Hollywood would be the equivalent of hearing in 1950 that Ronald Reagan would one day be elected by 49 states to the presidency of the United States of America. While McConaughey takes a back seat in the movie, his presence was certainly a factor in getting the script greenlit and for that we all need to be especially thankful. He’s not here to showboat, he’s here to bring us quality content. With that out of the way, the movie. White Boy Rick is an intense and at times hysterical look at a microcosm of poor white trash that missed the memo on white flight.
Rick Wershe Jr. is a white teenager living in Detroit during the height of the crack epidemic. He helps his father operate a semi-legitimate arms business and his sister is a drug addict who runs away from home to live with her abusive dealer. Richie Merritt plays Rick in a performance that captures adolescence accurately, as a young buck learning how to walk, stumbling around but always acting as if everything is under control. Being young is about wanting to be old and benefit from all the perks of being older. Rick wants to have money, he wants respect, he wants to get laid, and he wants to be a “man.”
Rick’s first role model is his father, played by McConaughey. Like all youths, he goes out and finds a supplemental role model, a mentor from the real world. That mentor is Detroit kingpin Johnny 'Lil Man' Curry. Rick embraces the culture of his new circle of friends and the outcome is an awkward teenager trying to act cool, the buck learning to walk. Soon the FBI gets involved and, along with everyone else, hijacks Rick’s coming-of-age. He deals crack, makes money, and becomes a part of a cancer that to this day continues to ruin millions of lives.
White Boy Rick is a sad story about a raw deal, personal mistakes, and learning the harsh lesson that life’s not fair. It’s a bleak movie but an interesting movie because we could all be Rick if not for certain circumstances. He’s not the born sociopath we often see in the gangster genre. He’s just a young idiot, and that is a redundant statement. Some movies create characters that capture audience’s admiration through symbolism. Tony Montana symbolizes ambition. Henry Hill symbolizes rebellion. Rick Wershe Jr. isn’t a symbol, he’s a young adult. That’s not to say his actions are just “mistakes.” He committed serious crimes and paid a hefty price. It wasn’t just a case of stealing a loaf of bread to feed a hungry family. Rick shouldn’t be romanticized, but he should be treated with humility. No matter what, he’s a real person and ultimately that’s what this movie shows us.