“What hooked me was the father and son interactions,” says ‘White Boy Rick’ director Yann Demange

“White Boy Rick” releases in theaters Friday.

Matthew McConaughey (Finalized);Richie Merritt (Finalized)

It’s a true story of the youngest FBI informant in history and for British director Yann Demange, who earned global accolades for his debut film “’71,”  what attracted him to the script was the multi-generational father and son story.

“I saw that as a chance to take this true story and tackle the themes of the struggle for the American Dream in the face of poverty and the opportunity through a family trying to succeed against dire odds. That’s what excited me, even more than the informant story,”  he shares.

Set in 1980s Detroit at the height of the crack epidemic, it tells the story of  Rick Wershe Jr., a  15-year boy who was initially recruited by the FBI as an undercover drug informant and ended up becoming a neighborhood drug dealer.Jonathan Majors ;Taylour Paige ;Richie Merritt ;RJ Cyler

Brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Richie Merritt,  the film chronicles three critical years in the life of a baby-faced, street-savvy teen Rick Wershe Jr. as he rises from teenage to infamous drug dealer before ultimately becoming a pawn to some of Detroit’s most powerful and corrupt politicians.

The film opens in 1984 as Rick Wershe Jr.  and  his father, Richard Sr., a self-styled business hustler and gun dealer, played by Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey, are at a gun show. Fast forward a couple of scenes later and we meet  his older sister, Dawn (Bel Powley), a rebel with a drug addiction and learn that Rick’s mother left the family years earlier in a bitter divorce.  Demange briefly introduces this world of domestic dysfunction and the crack cocaine epidemic that plagued Detroit during that era, before jumping in to the nitty gritty of  Ricks’s recruitment as a confidential undercover informant. Although he is not involved in drugs at the time, Rick knows many of the players in his racially mixed neighborhood and his initial assignment, which he reluctantly accepts, is to infiltrate the Curry Crew who dominate East Detroit’s drug scene. He befriends the youngest Curry brother, Rudell “Boo” Curry (RJ Cyler), and soon enters the Curry’s dangerous world of fast cars, after-hours nightlife, mink coats, gold jewelry and, when necessary, violence and moves up within his organization.Matthew McConaughey;Richie Merritt

With Rick’s relationship with his own father beginning to deteriorate, Curry becomes like a father figure to his young protégé and Rick rises rapidly in the area’s drug scene  earning his own street nickname, “White Boy Rick,” all the while still under the guidance and encouragement of law enforcement until his downward spiral and ultimate incarceration.

It’s an ambitious miscarriage of justice tale for Demange who visited the real Rick Wershe in prison and spoke with him on the phone on a regular basis.

“The development phase was a long process because I had never done a true story, so it was imperative for me to see the real Rick in jail. That was part of my decision process, to figure out whether I could actually do this because initially there wasn’t a clear narrative – there were many ways to tell the story of Rick Wershe but, as I said, I wanted to focus on the family. It took about three years and it was a real process of not taking liberties with his life and distilling it down to the facts and its emotional core,” Demange (pictured below) explains.

Matthew McConaughey (Finalized)

The film also features  Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Hateful Eight“) and Rory Cochrane (“Black Mass“) as the FBI agents who begin working with Rick as a confidential informant, and Brian Tyree Henry (FX’s “Atlanta”) as narcotics Detective Jackson.  Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”) plays Rick’s grandfather, rapper YG and Jonathan Majors round off the cast as local dealers.

There’s  humility and humor in the film,  which  does not take a moral stance but certainly exposes the mandatory sentencing and drug laws that decimated the African American community in particular, but also the poor and disenfranchised in general.

“White Boy Rick” releases in theaters Friday

(Photos by Scott Garfield)

Leave a Reply