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RHOADES REVIEW

'White Boy Rick' yarn about youngest FBI informant ever

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By Shirrel Rhoades
Columnist

Monday, September 24, 2018

Yes, Richard Wershe Jr. was white. And he was a boy, just 14 or 15 at the time. In this true story, we learn how Rick became the youngest FBI informant ever.

“White Boy Rick” is a crime comedy-drama based on Wershe’s life. The screenplay was adapted from an article in Atavist titled “The Trials of White Boy Rick.” The piece became a finalist for a National Magazine Award. We’ll have to wait a while to see what kind of accolades the film garners. So far it’s been getting middle-of-the-road reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, rating it as 63% Fresh.

In the early ‘80s Rick Wershe’s lower-middle-class family lived a few miles from downtown Detroit. With few other options, the boy gets sucked into becoming a street hustler until he’s recruited by the FBI as a snitch. S tuck in the middle, he has no hope for escape.

When the FBI no longer needs him, Rick goes out on his own, selling cocaine. He created his own empire before the Feds busted him in ’89, handing down a life sentence as required by Michigan law at the time.

The film asks us to the question of whether the punishment fits the crime.

Richie Merritt takes on his first movie role as the title character, White Boy Rick. Matthew McConaughey plays his dad. Merritt credits McConaughey for tutoring him as an actor, pulling a first-class performance from him.

“We knew we were in for a bull ride with a young man who had never acted before,” says McConaughey. “And he is the lead of the entire film. We knew every day was going to be a different surprise.”

Nonetheless, audiences have been “blown away” by Richie Merritt’s performance. And McConaughey’s acting has been called “Oscar worthy.”

The supporting cast is also strong. Bruce Dern takes on the role of Grandpa Ray “Roman” Wershe, with Piper Laurie as Ray’s wife Verna. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane flash badges as FBI agents. Rapper YG gets the part of Leo “Big Man” Curry, with Jonathan Majors as Johnny “Lil Man” Curry and RJ Cyler as Rudell “Boo” Curry.

Directed by Yann Demange (“’71,” “Top Boy”) , this meandering tale comes off as gloomy, despite its comic touches. The music (“S.O.S.,” “Beat Bop,” “Pump Me Up,” etc.) gives the film a proper ‘80s feel, and Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” sets the scene.

Rick is seen as a naïve kid, a “pawn in the chessboard of life.” The decaying buildings of Detroit serve as a metaphor for the decline of the family in this poverty-stricken, crime-ridden environment.

As it happened, Rick Wershe was paroled after serving nearly 30 years, but upon his release the US Marshals immediately transferred him to Florida to serve time for his involvement in a car theft ring.

A crook just can’t catch a break, it seems.

As drug lord Pablo Escobar once said, “I am surprised that many people disregard the fact that the end for almost all drug dealers ends up being the cemetery or the jail cell. We do not know of any case where a drug dealer has ‘retired.’”

srhoades@aol.com.

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