Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson.
Written by: Malcolm Campbell based on the novel by Kevin Power.
Starring: Jack Reynor (Richard Karlsen), Roisin Murphy (Lara Hogan), Sam Keeley (Conor Harris), Gavin Drea (Stephen O'Brien), Fionn Walton (Cian Fox), Lars Mikkelsen (Peter Karlsen), Lorraine Pilkington (Katherine Karlsen), Padraic Delaney (Pat Kilroy), Patrick Gibson (Jake Galvin), Liana O'Cleirigh (Clodagh Grady), Rachel Gleeson (Eimear Byrne), Gabrielle Reidy (Eileen Harris), Mella Carron (Sophie Kilroy).
Everyone loves Richard. He’s charming and good looking – a star athlete in high school, who isn’t the kind of arrogant bully so many star athletes appear to be – or at least are portrayed that way in American movies. He takes shy, awkward JV players under his wing, he protects a young teenage girl when things may be going too far, and he’s kind to his mom. In short, Richard seems like the perfect teenage son. But in then Richard does something truly monstrous – and his whole world starts to collapse in around him. He’s plagued with guilt, and this is made worse by the fact that although a lot of people know what he did, none of them are stepping forward to rat him out. In fact, they all willingly lie for him – although in doing so, it diminishes his sterling reputation in their eyes. The thing that makes the new film What Richard Did so interesting is that the movie leaves the central question for the you to answer – Is Richard a good kid who did one horrible thing, or is his outward charm and kindness just a cover for a much darker, more violent person underneath? No matter what your answer to this question is, no one can really tell you that you’re wrong.
Richard is played in a star making performance by Jack Reynor (Michael Bay apparently saw the movie and it was the reason he has been given a major role in Transformers 4 – too bad because Reynor is far too talented to be slumming it in a franchise like that). At first, it seems like the first half of the movie is painting Richard as almost a saint. Sure, he gets into some teenage mischief – but it’s all harmless fun. It’s only after the turning point in the film when you look back at some of what Richard does in the first half in a different light. If we forgive him at first for stealing Lara (Roisin Murphy) from one of his team mates, Conor (Sam Keeley), it’s because it genuinely seems like Richard and Lara are better meant for each other – Conor seems a little immature. And Richard is at least nice about it – as is Lara. But what then do we make of scenes after that, but before the incident where he seems, if not exactly cruel to Lara, at least a little thoughtless (asking if she got a new top, and when she replies yes, waiting more than few beats before complementing it, the way he criticizes her “performance” with his parents – in what seemed like a perfectly normal dinner sequence). And what of his behavior towards Lara after the incident? Is it all because of the guilt he feels, or is there something darker lurking there?
In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not going to reveal what Richard did in the movie to give the film its title. It is the type of incident that could happen to a lot of teenage boys when hormones, alcohol and volatile teenage emotions are in play. It’s not really what Richard did, but it’s what Richard does after that really calls his character into question.
What Richard Did is a fascinating movie because of the central question. My own take is that Richard was always harboring some dark, violent impulses – impulses that I’m not sure he even knew he had, and that dealing with that is perhaps even harder for him than the guilt over what he actually did – I’m not sure he really feels an empathy, which is what the final scenes imply, since he makes no effort to actually do what he says he will. But it’s to Reynor’s credit that his performance allows that his performance allows for an alternate interpretation – that Richard is really just a screwed up teenager, who made a horrible mistake, is stricken by guilt – and is really just a scared little boy. There are moments in the film’s second half, where I felt that as well.
I like movies like this – movies that do not spell everything out for the audience, but instead allows the audience to decide precisely how the want to read things. This is the type of movie that I know will frustrate some audiences simply because it doesn’t spell everything out for them. But for me, this is the type of movie I enjoyed – the questions are more important the answers in the film. The film itself is not quite as good as Reynor is in the lead role – it is a little too calculated, and everything fits together a little too nicely for that. But this understated character study is a fascinating little movie – and should make a star out of Reynor.