Saturday 25 May 2019

Richard and his teen pals face trouble

Gavin Burke

film of the week

what richard did (15A, general release, 87 minutes)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson Stars: Jack Reynor, Roisin Murphy, Sam Keeley, Lars Mikkelsen, Gavin Drea, Fionn Walton


Richard and his teen pals face trouble

Adam & Paul and Garage director Lenny Abrahamson has pulled off a coup; he's taken a movie starring teens and set in a teenage world but hasn't made a teen movie. That's impressive, like Arthur C Clarke writing a novel set in space, but not sci-fi.

What Richard Did is not in John Hughes territory (kisses, prom, pink) but nor is it Larry Clark (sweat, drugs, sex); its closest cousin would be 1986's River's Edge, but it's a distant cousin.

Abrahamson, working for the first time without long-time collaborator Mark O'Halloran (writer of Abrahamson's films and the TV series Prosperity), directs What Richard Did, a scintillating drama 'based' on the events leading up to that attack on Brian Murphy outside Club Anabel in 2000.

But 'based' is the operative word.

Loosely based on Kevin Powers' novel Bad Day In Blackrock, which was a largely fictional story depicting the incidents surrounding the death of a teenager at the hands of well-to-do South Dublin boys.

The novel itself was loosely based on the real events and this fictional distance allows Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell (Shameless, The Bill) room to expand on the story.

Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) has it all. The only son of rich parents who boast a holiday home by the beach, the handsome rugby captain at a prestigious D4 school is respected by his friends' parents; his lies to one about the whereabouts of her drunken son is taken as gospel because of who he is and his slick tongue.

The manner with which he handles the grown-ups impresses pretty Lara Hogan (Roisin Murphy), girlfriend of Conor (Sam Keeley).

A clandestine date at the beach house follows and Richard woos Lara away from Conor, who, annoyingly, won't leave it alone.

He struggles with the break-up and the guilty Lara spends time tending to the weepy boy.

He's always around: he's in Stephen's Green where the couple spend a sunny afternoon and at a house party where a drunken and jealous Richard is refused entry.

Conor's decision to turn up at the party, and his butting in on the resulting couple's spat, proves to be a fatal one. There's a scuffle that starts with Richard's friends (Gavin Drea and Fionn Walton) descending on Conor and ends with Richard kicking Conor in the head.

This terrific drama heralds Abrahamson as a major director.

Never concerned with flashy calling-card shots, he is solely interested in character and plot, and in What Richard Did, the plot exists in the cracks, in moments where it looks like not a lot is happening.

It's Abrahamson skill that gives each scene a natural progression, allowing the actors room to be the characters, and they deliver.

Reynor, flitting easily between puppy dog and icy soullessness, is the standout, and his relationship with the subtle Murphy is given the proper time to evolve.

Keeley, Walton and Drea also impress.

And what of the court case and the public outcry of what was deemed a soft sentence?

An ambiguous Abrahamson doesn't overtly address it, allowing the audience to flood the climax with their opinions and prejudices. One scene sees Richard, isolated from his friends and family, scream and rant and rave: but is it a moment of heartfelt agony for Conor and his family, or a selfish reaction to his ruined life?

Plus, Abrahamson would probably suggest that that was reality and this is fiction. Wonderful stuff.

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