What Richard Did follows Richard Karlsen, golden-boy athlete and undisputed alpha-male of his privileged set of South Dublin teenagers, through the summer between the end of school and the beginning of university. The world is bright and everything seems possible, until in one summer night Richard does something that destroys it all and shatters the lives of the people closest to him. Featuring extraordinary performances from its mainly young cast, What Richard Did is a quietly devastating study of a boy confronting the gap between who he thought he was and who he proves to be.
This film seems to confirm and amplify Abrahamson's (Adam & Paul, Garage) considerable strengths as a film-maker, and, to a lesser extent his frustrating weaknesses.
On the plus side, he is great with his actors, both in who he casts and what he gets out of them. His characters always feel complex and real. He also sets up very convincing, morally ambiguous worlds, situations and people. No easy heroes and villains.
But he also has a tendency to be drawn to melodramatic twists, and those actually make his films less interesting, not more, as it feels like he's trying to force the emotional issues.
In many ways my favorite part of the film was the first 45 minutes before the central incident. Abrahamson excells at observing and capturing the complexities of late teen-age life with subtlety and a fresh eye. These aren't the desperate angry street kids of poverty, nor are they the morally bankrupt idiots we often see upper-class kids portrayed as. They feel real; they drink, but they're not all alcoholics and stoners. They have sex, but more often than not it's attached to some sense of emotion, at graspings towards being in a relationship. Their parents are flawed but trying. Its people as people, not just symbols, even though subtle issues of class and social standing inform the whole story.
But when it gets to the big twists and the big themes, I felt it laboring more, working at it's effects instead of letting them happen. Its not that the 2nd half isn't good,its that it lacks the power the set up and situation seems to promise. It sticks to it's ambiguity, but that starts to feel just a touch like an intellectual conceit, not an exploration of darker human truths.
Despite the intriguing title succeeding in its job of attracting my attention, the film’s storytelling is far from conventional. Initially I was irritated by the low-key naturalistic style of directing, almost self-indulgent and bordering on the ‘grating’, as we enter the complacent world of the self-confident, arrogant adolescent children of the prosperous social elite of Dublin. However, as the narrative progressed I gradually began to appreciate the slow, subtle and masterful way in which this compelling morality tale develops. Jack Reynor gives an admirable understated performance as the handsome rugby-playing alpha male protagonist whose misjudged split-second decision is at the heart of the film, the aftermath of which not only involves the participants in the dreadful act but also members of the immediate community. The film’s tone rapidly moves from a lethargic smug optimism to a bleak, tense, guilt-ridden exploration of Richard’s moral code as he struggles to decide on the right course of action. A deceptive, devastatingly brutal and honest film which is well worth seeking out and well worth staying with. Surprisingly, it is a film which lingers in the mind long after its viewing.
This is a film from Ireland that introduces us to Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) who is the lad who has it all. Good at sport, all the girls fancy him, his parents are cool and he is even intelligent. The sort of guy that made you green with envy at school. He also has a girlfriend in Lara (Roisin Murphy) and his parents are so rich they have a holiday home. Unfortunately it is on the beach outside Dublin, so no need for the Factor 30 here but possible need for `wind smear', `drizzle cream' or `gloom juice'.
He has loads of mates who of course all look up to him, and the youngsters all want to bathe in the glow of his reflected love and glory. Then things take a turn for the sinister, when jealousy rears its' ugly head at one the `cool `parties things go very wrong, very quick. What follows will strip away the social veneers of a life of privilege and show him up for what he truly is.
Now I actually enjoyed this independent effort but there are a few issues with it. It can be a bit slow in places where a more heavyweight cast could have carried it, but it just seems to wallow a bit. Then there is the music, and being Irish there is no excuse for not having a cracking sound track, but we have lots of plinky, plonky xylophone type stuff, which is just plain grating. The main performances are really solid and Jack Reynor actually seems to age during the process which is a testament to him and direction from Malcolm Campbell. There are a few loose ends too, but overall this was quite memorable and I love independent cinema and the fact that they are prepared to take risks, so I may be being generous but I think this is actually well above being just OK, hence my rating.