Directed By: Yann Demange
Written By: Andy Weiss, Noah Miller & Logan Miller
Cinematography By: Tat Radcliffe
Editor: Chris Wyatt
Cast: Richie Merritt, Matthew McCognahey, Bel Powley, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, Brian Tyree Henry, RJ Cyler, Eddie Marsan, Jonathan Majors, YG
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.
This is a film I wanted to love and while it is necessarily affecting. It comes across as better than normal but still falls short.
It’s got an intriguing true story. I have even read the book the film is based on as well as researched into the story. Which seems like an epic story in itself that is hard to keep in such a small film and story. As the film never reaches the magnitudes it should. Instead staying more a character drama. So that we are always at the center but rarely travel outside to see the waves of ramifications
The films first half goes about showing the inner workings and lives of these characters how they can change on a dime and how unpredictable they can be. The film begins with verve and by the second half feels. For direct and melodramatic
Director Yann Demange directs the hell out of it. Though there always feels like there is something missing be it information some kind of sense in where things are going at times. As the film makes a spectacle out of letting us know what year it is but at times feels like it jumps around and that we have missed something. A sling as the movie is and how satisfying it can be. There is a sense that it isn’t full or that something is missing. It’s a good meal but there seems to be something missing some kind of seasoning.
Matthew McCognahey gives a great performance as a father with a decidedly dodgy past who at the time is trying to do things right for his kids even though it might be too late. As he seems to be a natural born salesman whose aim is wrong and is just struggling to survive.
While I can applaud the film for making the audience want to know more about this story. The film also while guiding the audience leaves certain details vague. So that we know enough but feel like we are missing some information at times. Like it’s talked about why rick’s sister hates their father, but is never quite explained.
It’s a strange movie where I can understand why some might consider it poverty porn, but as in a scene in the film also points out how the audience issue to see rick as a victim. And feel sorry for him though how many of these films and true life tales have we seen of African Americans in the same position or roles and while those films offer up the same sympathy yet not the same necessary circumstances they are treated more par for the course.
We barely get to know much about the African American characters besides their business and that they surround the character. So of course he fits right in and seems to know and get along in their culture. Though it’s not their story very few of these actor get moments of humanity or humanistic more rather in passing.
Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie are also part of the film and add a pedigree to the cast and while they have minor moments there is nothing special for them to do except appear. So they almost seem like a wasted opportunity.
The performances throughout the film are on point.
At least the film chooses not to glorify the lifestyle it shows the highs and lows but never makes it look lucrative. Even when successful there is a surplus of money though still all around is deteriorating as far as locations and upkeep.
The film also doesn’t portray rick as some kind of unstoppable kingpin. He is more a victim of circumstance and going after the bigger better picture out of survival
Even when he snitches the film makes it appear more that he is forced to. Of course the film departs at times from what actually happened and has to leave out certain details. Where as even after going to prison his story is just as interesting and exposes more corruption.
For such a vivid crime story. When riches are shown it still feels like shiny materials in a deteriorating atmosphere. So much so that the few scenes of violence are a bit shocking.
Though that goes with the director’s style of gritty docu-drama realism.
it is a little disheartening to see the true drug dealing so called gangsters he worked for dealt with in just hairy shrift Never truly showing the power and reach they had. Bit exactly showing them to have any depth bad much as our main Character.
You get the feeling the father should have known better then to trust the cops at their word. Especially when they seems to always make little to no effort before that. Which is where the strength of McCongnahey’s performance comes through when you can tell he feels like he has failed as a father. When he feels he has set them upon the downtrodden path they seem to be traveling down.
This film could have easily been something different, but it decides to focus on the family purely rather then the repercussions of actions taken. Such as the role they and the government are putting in the surroundings and black community.
Not to mention could dramatize the connection to his drug dealing mentor more or even explore more of their personal life.
Yet the film makes it obvious what makes him different from the crew and those around him. The film doesn’t explore the racial disparities involved. It chooses not to be so stylish and stay gritty even when the characters are successful and making it. They still look shabby and are surrounded by poverty.
The soundtrack is an interesting affair as it is used smartly but luckily the film doesn’t become a slave to it whole also dipping in some nostalgia for time placement. Even though the score at times does feel heavy and a bit too manipulative.
The movie is worth watching just not the slam dunk you might be looking for.