‘White Boy Rick’ introduces Detroit street legend’s life to Hollywood

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Special To / The Advocate

By Efrain Valdez, Sports Editor

Films are supposed to either put audiences in fictional worlds that expand imaginations or offer viewers a better understanding of real life situations.
The film “White Boy Rick,” which is based on a true story, takes the audience to 1984 Detroit, Michigan in the midst of a crack cocaine epidemic.
This motion picture introduces the audience to Richard Wershe Jr., aka White Boy Rick played by Richie Merritt, and his white lower middle-class family shortly before he became the youngest FBI street informant ever at age 15.
Director Yann Demange gives us a grim look into Detroit’s post- white flight era neighborhoods and manages to offer up a glimpse of how the Reagan Administration’s War on Drugs further crippled those communities.
Rick, is pressed by FBI agents Alex (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Roach (Frank Byrd) to become an informant, while threatening him to bring charges against his father Richard Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) for illegal gun sales to gangs.
As a crime comedy-drama, this film manages to force the crack-riddled violence down the throat of the audience with riveting scenes like when Rick nearly dies after being shot or seeing his daughter Dawn Wershe (Bel Powley) battle her addiction to crack.
Demange manages to include some much-needed scenes of comic relief to ease the tension in the theater. In one scene, Rick’s daughter’s uncle knocks on the Wershes’ door to tell Rick to “man up because he has a son to take care of.”
The director also is able to make Detroit look like the run-down city it was back in 1980s.
During that time, industrial companies moved their facilities out of the inner city and into rural areas.
That resulted in a lack of opportunities for workers and resulted in a mass exodus that left many uninhabited homes to serve as makeshift crack houses.
Between the crack houses, drive-in movie theaters and the club scenes, it feels like they represent that era perfectly.
Both McConaughey and Powley did terrific jobs embodying their roles.
McConaughey always thrives in roles when serving as the Midwestern everyman as in the films “Interstellar” and “We Are Marshall.”
However Merritt, who is from Baltimore, had me convinced he was a British actor with a bad American accent — especially during the car crash scene and in other emotional moments.
Merritt had the look of a white boy who is from the hood, but it had a feel that another actor could have pulled it off better.
Demange also missed an opportunity to include the history of the African-American gangs in Detroit and the War on Drugs that targeted those communities.
Even though we get glimpses of it during the sting operation scene, when most of Rick’s old friends are arrested, the French film director seems too unconcerned with America’s history of oppression of this minority group.
It is understandable that the film director only wants to represent the life of Rick and not step into something that could take the audience away from that.
But to not include more of the African-American struggles in a film that takes place in an African- American setting is odd.
This movie is enjoyable to watch, but it had the potential for much more. Instead of being a movie I will remember for the rest of my life, it will be one that I will forget after five years.