What Richard Did got a healthy dose of publicity a couple of months ago when Michael Bay announced he was casting young Irish actor Jack Reynor in one of the lead roles in Transformers 4 after seeing his performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s movie. Reynor is indeed very good, although the film itself is slightly more problematic.
Richard (Reynor) is a young lad who’s popular, has plenty of friends and has status thanks to playing on the rugby team. He begins a relationship with Lara (Roisin Murphy), although there are some issues with her ex-boyfriend, Conor (Sam Keeley). At a party things come to a head when Conor steps into an argument between Richard and Lara, leading to a moment of violence that could have major repercussions for all involved.
What Richard Did is the sort of movie that’s likely to divide audiences. Some will get involved in the lives of these youngsters and be intrigued by the moral ambivalence of whether Richard should come clean about what happened or not. However others will find the whole things rather slow – particularly early on as Richard doesn’t do all that much except hang out for the first 40 minutes (although this does effectively set up the characters’ world) – and get rather frustrated by its refusal to come to any sort of narrative resolution. I’m kind of in both camps. The film is undoubtedly interesting, offering a fascinating character study of a young man who thinks he’s got the whole world at his feet, but whose entire universe is threatened by a single, drunken act.
There’s a lot about the movie that feels true about older teens and the way they act, both their youthful promise and tendency towards unthinking selfishness and sense of invulnerability. Richard certainly shows both sides, to the point that he’s not the sort of person you’ll necessarily like, even before the film’s central event. However the events of the second half feel less true, with the filmmakers so desperate not to engage in big drama and overwrought sentiment, that it often feels like it’s distancing itself from the emotional truth of the situation. That’s not always true, and there’s one scene with Richard and his father in the garden that’s absolutely brilliant, but it often feels that the film is so afraid of being accused of sentimentality or emotional manipulation that it slightly hobbles itself.
Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with an ending that doesn’t offer full narrative resolution, but What Richard Did is so busy not giving easy answers that it muddles the framework of what it’s talking about. In an interview on the DVD, director Lenny Abrahamson talks about how he doesn’t feel cinema has an obligation to offer easy narrative resolution – although he does say there should be a sense of completeness – but here it feels a slight cop out, which may just be because it doesn’t quite have the sense of completeness Abrahamson was looking for.
From the lengthy interview, I couldn’t help but feel that the film’s strengths and weaknesses are a result of it all being a little bit overthought and slightly underbaked. All those involved have obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the movie, its characters and the situations, and have worked hard to find some ‘truth’ in it (whatever their version of cinematic truth might be), but is seems they’ve spent less time actually thinking about it from the viewer’s perspective. Abrahamson is certainly illuminating about the movie in the interview, but quite a lot of what he says isn’t fully articulated to the viewer within the film, or is only hinted at in an opaque way it’d be pretty much impossible to fully understand while watching What Richard Did.
The result is a film that I would recommend fans of the artier side of independent cinema should watch, even though I can’t help but feel that overall it’s a near miss. There’s a lot of interest in the movie and Reynor is great, but unfortunately I didn’t feel it completely coalesced into something whole and cinematically satisfying.
Overall Verdict: An interesting movie that’s has plenty of ideas and intriguing aspects to it, but it doesn’t quite come together, often because it feels that while lots of time has been ensuring the director and actors have fully unravelled every aspect of this story, it hasn’t been opened enough to the audience.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac