Was the Trailer for 'White Boy Rick' Too Good?
The biggest thing standing in the way of White Boy Rick being considered one of the best movies of 2018 so far (I have it as the fourth best I’ve seen), is whether or not audiences realize they’re watching a good movie. It’s impossible to speak about the film without jumping into the larger discussion about how movies are marketed now. The White Boy Rick trailer was almost too good, complete with thumping disco music and roller-skating and fur coats and AK-47s, not to mention one of the world’s biggest movie stars rocking a gloriously disgusting mullet. It’s a trashy wealth fever dream, promising pure excitement and fast-paced fun, flashing loaded words like “kingpin” and “FBI.” That trailer was pretty clearly the reason a couple hundred people packed into a media pre-screening I attended of this movie on Monday night in Chicago. All were primed for a party. When fewer media members showed up than expected, attendants peeled back the “reserved” tape and stuffed even more people into the theater. They showed up for the wrong movie, but I’m not sure if they ever realized it. The world of White Boy Rick is a depressing one, depicting the poverty and rampant drug-addiction of Detroit’s east side in the mid-1980s. It’s a place where people live miserable lives until they die, often prematurely on the receiving end of a bullet, with little hope of escape. They sell cocaine on the street because they have no other lucrative job opportunities. Our main character, Rick, who I can confirm is very much white and very much a boy at age 15 when the movie opens, is a tragic figure. He’s dropped out of school. He has no mother, his father sells weapons to gangsters, his sister is a drug addict, and his grandparents live across the street in the same rundown neighborhood. Within a year he becomes a teen parent. Sound like an entertaining, fun movie now? In a lot of ways the film is a spiritual prequel to 8 Mile, the Eminem biopic depicting the same racial crossover in the same city (Detroit) a few decades later. The movie has more in common with Requiem for a Dream and Half-Nelson in the way it depicts the destructive power of drugs, rather than its glamorization. And not to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say the whole thing doesn’t wrap up in a nice neat bow. It’s a true story, after all. However, what elevates this over all three of those movies is the moments of levity. Ridiculous situations are played effectively for comedy, and the jokes really are funny. The plot keeps moving forward towards a point, never hovering too long on just how depressing this all could be if you stopped to think about it. A lot of that credit deserves to fall on Matthew McConaughey. He acts circles around everyone else in this movie, provides the emotional core and at least 90 percent of the laughs too. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the best performances of his career. In one moment he’s able to compare silencers to the fries that go with a burger (an AK-47 being the burger), in another moment he’s fighting off tears about not being able to connect with his daughter, and in yet another his misplaced optimism breaks the viewer’s heart. And yes, the mullet is both glorious and disgusting. He does it all from the passenger seat. I’ve always felt that his talents were best served as a supporting character, a strange, colorful sidekick like he was in Dazed and Confused, Magic Mike, Tropic Thunder or more recently in True Detective. His fame and looks, well and the paycheck, has unfortunately pushed him into the role of leading man. Meanwhile, my screening was just there for the party, and I’m not sure they were to disappointed with what they got. The whole place erupted at every joke, and there were scattered laughs during objectively serious moments too. It’s unclear whether most ever realized what they were watching was a serious, good movie and not the fun jaunt they were sold in the trailer, but in my sample size of one it seemed like someone could enjoy the movie either way. If you’re a fan of McConaughey, of mullets, or of cocaine, I highly recommend going to see White Boy Rick. It’s far from a special, transcendent work of art, but it is one of the five best movies I’ve seen this year.
The French Connection (1971)
It's strange to say this about a movie that came out in 1971, but The French Connection feels like an old-school movie, even for its time. It takes all of the tropes of classic Raymond Chandler noir films of the 1940's, starting with the wise-cracking, no-nonsense cop protagonist played famously by Gene Hackman. But it modernizes these tropes, and sets the precedents used in every police movie and television show since. In American cinema, few movies have been more influential. I realize that saying a movie belongs in the 1940s is not the best way to convince you to watch it. And I'll admit, the movie is a procedural in every painstaking way. Stake outs, tailing of suspects, car chases, and phone tapping all happen in close to real time, slowing the pace to a crawl at points. The payoff comes tenfold when the doldrums of common investigative work suddenly produce a breakthrough that leads to a few moments of intense action. But this movie is a perfect example of the type of film you need to see, because it teaches you how to watch all of the movies that followed in its footsteps. Plus, the wonderfully ambiguous ending to this movie ends always delivers.
Dallas Buyer's Club (2013)
One overlooked aspect of Matthew McConaughey's career is his surprisingly low hit rate in movies. For every one like Dallas Buyer's Club or A Time to Killthere's two disasters like The Paperboy or Gold. But the reason why he is regarded so highly is that when he connects, he knocks the ball all the way out of the park. History will remember this as his most impressive home run, earning him his only Academy Award nomination and victory. It's classic Oscar fare, forcing a famous actor to do something extreme (lose a ton of weight) and commit to playing a traditionally difficult role (someone dying of cancer). He nails it, and though the movie may not live up to the massive praise that was heaped upon it, it does a nice job of flipping the traditional "drugs are bad!" trope on its head. Worth a watch.