If it weren't true, most people would probably find the story of White Boy Rick unbelievable. After all, who would believe that a 14-year-old white boy growing up in 1980's Detroit would become a trusted member of a notorious drug gang, a paid police and FBI informant and eventually a rising drug dealer himself? Well, it is true, and it's the story of Rick Wershe, Jr.
Wershe, who was known on the streets as White Boy Rick, grew up in a dysfunctional household with his dad and, before she left home, his older, drug addicted sister, Dawn. Rick Sr. was a licensed gun dealer who sold a variety of guns, including AK 47's, on the black market. Wershe Jr. worked alongside his dad, knowing what they were doing was wrong, but turning a blind eye to it in an effort to help his family escape poverty. Along with wanting to help his dad, it's Rick's frequent dealings with the Curry Crew, led by Johnny Curry, that lead him down a path where there's no turning back.
As much as it's a story about Rick Wershe, Jr., unscrupulous cops and Detroit's illegal drug trade, White Boy Rick is a story about family. This movie shows the strong bond Rick Jr. had with his sister and how he refused to give up on her even when she had given up on herself by allowing drugs to overtake her life. It also shows how Rick Jr.'s devotion to his dad helped lead to his undoing.
What we also see is how law enforcement recruited, used and then just discarded Rick Jr. after they got what they wanted: enough information on the Curry gang, whose members were arrested and sent to prison. With the Currys behind bars and no more ties to law enforcement, Rick Jr. branched out and started selling drugs on his own with the help of the supplier who once supplied the Curry Crew. When he’s caught with 8 kilos of cocaine, Rick Jr. is sentenced to life in prison under Michigan’s 650 Lifer Law, a 1978 law that mandated life imprisonment without parole for anyone convicted of possessing more than 650 grams of cocaine.
Was Rick Jr. wrong to sell drugs? Of course he was. But did he deserve to spend nearly 30 years behind bars for doing so when there are convicts behind bars serving much less time for doing far worse? See the movie and judge for yourself.
I found the movie interesting and very well done. Matthew McConaughey is convincing as Rick’s father, Richard Wershe Sr., and newcomer Richie Merritt as Rick Wershe Jr. certainly has a career in front of the camera if he so chooses. Actress Bel Powley is a scene stealer as Rick’s sister, Dawn.
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Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA)
Detroit Film Critics Society (DFCS)
African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA)
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