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Tribeca Review: ‘What Richard Did’ Is A Stark, Sobering Drama Of Guilt And Regret

Tribeca Review: 'What Richard Did' Is A Stark, Sobering Drama Of Guilt And Regret

Last week, Matt Singer wrote a solid Criticwire piece on spoilers and film reviews, discussing the right, or lack thereof, of readers complaining about spoilers in reviews. I don’t subscribe to the theory of spoilers because films aren’t simply a cherry-picked collection of moments: it makes no difference whether you say if Tom Cruise survives at the end of “Oblivion” compared to sharing with someone the content of his dubious opening narration (side note: you can’t spoil a Tom Cruise movie anyway). So, look, if you’re marching headfirst into a review for a movie called “What Richard Did” and you don’t want to know what Richard did, then wait for us to build a Complaint Dept. and we will forward your emails there.

What startles about “What Richard Did” isn’t the tragedy, but the mundanity of what happens. Richard (Jack Reynor) is a handsome young teenager, an alpha male on his rugby team and big brother to the local youth. In their modest Irish neighborhood, Richard carries the social capital not only of being handsome and witty, but also having free reign over his parents’ beach house. While mom is hesitant about Richard’s drunken misbehavior with his lads, his dad is entirely understanding that a boy needs a little bit of troublemaking in his life.

In some ways, that troublemaking extends to Richard’s very-public courtship of Lara (Roisin Murphy), a local high schooler who can’t help but make eyes at the confident party-starter even while attached to another boy, lanky introvert Conor (Sam Keeley). With surgical precision, Richard slings some game at her and soon they’re having picnics and snuggling. It’s impossible to ignore the boy’s charm and Reynor’s distinct, wholesome handsomeness; surely Michael Bay saw such appeal when he cast Reynor in the upcoming “Transformers” sequel. You could see this guy growing up to romance leading ladies and dodge fireballs while being pinned to girls’ locker rooms. Hey, someone check to see if this guy can sing.

Unfortunately, it’s never clear that Lara has made a clean break with Conor, and those suspicions come to a head at a tumultuous house party. Seeing what appears to be Conor making a move, a massive drunken fight erupts. Richard, not a brawler by nature, goes chest-to-chest with Conor and the two of them argue until Conor slugs him. A group of kids swarm and begin wrestling each other as Richard attempts to find his bearings, with Conor taking a rogue shot to the face. Anyone who has been in a real fight knows the chaos that fisticuffs bring, and the potential for things to escalate beyond reason: as Conor fumbles in the dark, Richard approaches and delivers a swift, drunken kick to the face. It’s the sort of blow that action heroes unrealistically shrug off in every movie you’ve ever seen. And in this case, it proves fatal.

As the news reports discuss an 18-year-old boy found dead in the aftermath of a drinking party, Richard and his closest friends convene, troubled by the truth that it was an accident. Richard himself is deeply shaken — not only that his fate may be sealed, but because it was only meant to be an accident. What’s interesting is the dynamic portrayed by Richard and Conor before the incident: neither is antagonistic towards the other, and when Lara tries to break up with Conor, it’s Richard who comes by willing to lend a hand. They all remain mates afterwards, and while Richard is constantly casting a sideways glance at his romantic competitor, they still trade beers and barbs. Even though Richard has been unnaturally cruel to Conor, there seems to be a basic understanding here. Lads before ladies, as gentlemen say.

“What Richard Did” paints an evocative portrait of guilt and mourning while also parsing the stickiest notions of guilt and innocence. Richard keeps flip-flopping on the idea of turning himself in as he learns he’s not a suspect, a wishy-washy belief that suggests nothing. It frees him, the idea of coming clean, but at the same time he understands the pain and suffering he would be causing his family and community by going away. Richard seems like he would do a lot more good out of prison than inside, particularly with the upcoming young kids he’s shepherding through school. What’s important, “What Richard Did” asks, is that we understand the difference between binary understandings of good and bad, and why it’s never as simple as making amends or admitting to an accident. Tough and unsentimental, “What Richard Did” is a superb examination of the thin line behind harmless recklessness and stark tragedy. [A-]

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Comments

Alan B

A little heads up in regards to the Matt Singer article. It was inspired by a similarly themed piece of commentary by Slant Magazine's Calum Marsh. When Marsh isn't too busy being the most pig-ignorant, obnoxious and hypocritically anti-intellectual critic this side of Devin Faraci and Matt Goldberg, he's also happy to explain why everyone is stupid … except himself, of course. It's a creepily self-absorbed piece of writing, and – in the comments section of the Marsh article – Peter Schorn wrote a brilliant response to the 'commentary'. I don't want to diminish the comment (which is worth 100 reviews by Marsh), so I will just post it without truncation: 'The whole premise of this article is one of utter selfishness: "Who cares if I spoil YOUR experience? Who reads a review to not have their experience spoiled?" I'll tell you who: People who have to pay to see the movie that the "critic" probably saw in advance for free. To believe that, "film criticism is intended to be read by people who have seen the film under discussion," is to have no effing idea of the purpose of movie reviews to the general public. This is chin-stroking (and other parts) of the worse sort. You know why so many people say, "I don't listen to film reviews"? It's because smug twits like the author are useless ponces.

It's bad enough that most trailers, particularly for rom-coms as if there's any doubt the couple will get together by the end – spell out the entire plot, but when someone is trying to determine whether a movie is worth dropping over $20 in tickets alone not to mention gas, parking, snacks, babysitter, what purpose is served by some self-righteous juvenile movie "critic" who can't capable discuss whether a movie is worth the time and money without bragging like a brat about what he knows that the reader doesn't. A review is not the place for a deep spoilerific analysis. Sorry, it's not. If you can't deal with that, then get out of the reviewing business and stick to analysis.

A question for those who think spoiling the surprise for others is your right: Who anointed you the Keeper of Secrets? Are you such a-holes that if a friend spent weeks planning a surprise party for someone, you'd tip them off that it was going to happen? If yes, you're a jerk; if no, then why do you get to ruin others' movie fun?

2nd Question: Did someone spoil it for you before you experienced the movie or did you see it as the filmmakers intended? If you went in cold and were surprised, why are you so hellbent on denying others the same experience you had other than a childish need to ruin others fun?

In the commentary for The Usual Suspects, someone remarks about how the scene where Verbal is sitting in Kujan's office before his questioning reads totally differently the 2nd time you view it. The first time, you think Verbal is bored and just looking around the room; the second time you realize he's piecing together the elements of his story. For self-anointed spoiler spreaders like the author, it's more important to say, "While Verbal tells his story, the revelation that he is himself Keyser Soze may surprise some, but viewers should pay attention to the early scene where he gathers the pieces of his puzzle." WHAT?

Even the knowledge that there's a twist is a spoiler. I hate ads which quote spoiler reviews like, "…and So-And-So of the Irrelevant Media Outlet says, 'You won't see the twist coming at all!'" Um, no. Thanks to the review and ad, I'm going to spend the entire movie looking for hints of the twist instead of simply watching the movie. I had to run away from discussions of the outrage over the ending of Mass Effect 3 for three weeks while I played the game because I wanted to see for myself how I felt. The moment I was done, I went looking for those discussions, but it was MY CHOICE to find them. (I'm currently dodging Bioshock Infinite spoilers. Not everyone can rush out and play games the moment they come out.)

As a reviewer, I've had to dance around spoilers even for older movies like Audition because there are plenty of people who haven't seen it, but are aware of it though not the specifics. Somehow I was able to not discuss the specifics, but then again I'm not a hack with a need to spoil others fun to make myself feel important and in the know.

Have I ever spoiled something? Yes, in reviews on my personal blog (not major media outlets) for movies that are so bad that they need to be spoiled in order to properly explain what's so awful, usually in regards to how the trailer promises one thing and the movie is something else entirely. Country Strong was a particularly egregious case in when I posted the trailer and then asked if the end of the movie is even alluded to and how it was a nasty bait-and-switch on audiences paying for one thing and getting something totally different. But note that I didn't post the spoiler here because it's not my job to wreck things outside of my house and I'm not a spoiler jerk like the author. Occasionally I'll put a spoiler discussion section at the very bottom of my blog's reviews, but it's flagged and isolated from the main review text, marked as for those who have either seen the movie or don't care about spoilers.

There is a place of candid and in-depth discussion of a movie's plot and twist, but it is NOT IN THE FRIDAY MORNING REVIEW OF A NEW RELEASE! Sorry, but that's the case, Spoiler Mongers. Write a secondary analysis chin/wang-stroking on Monday for those who've seen it to join in with and those who haven't yet to avoid. But no not ruin the experience for those who don't want it ruined just because you're such a child that you can't restrain your urges to run by the bookstores at midnight to scream, "DUMBLEDORE DIES!" at the kids awaiting their new Harry Potter novel. Jerk.'

Kevin

It's pretty clearly stated in the opening paragraph there will be spoilers. If you read past that and still complain, that's on you.

Superzoom

How sad that a "reviewer" doesn't know the different between a "discussion" and an actual review.

The Truth

Gabe Toro – what a cunt. Another reason I am visiting The Playlist.

Superzoom

I guess it's official… I now no longer have an interest in reading any Playlist reviews. Spoilers indicate both a lack of respect for readers and a big lack of writing ability for the writer. All my favourite critics can describe a movie's premise in well written paragraph or two, and can discuss a movie's story, theme, strengths and weaknesses without giving away second and third act plot points. It's called skillful writing.

Alan B

Sorry to be reductive, but – for the purposes of simplicity – I would say there are two kinds of late 2nd/3rd act spoilers: spoilers discussed AFTER the film is widely available, and those revealed BEFORE. For instance, no one will issue death threats to Jonathan Rosenbaum if he releases an in-depth analysis on the career of Richard Linklater, in which the critic draws upon the endings of the the Texan director's films. That's because a book like that is based on the understanding that the viewer has seen the films, and wants to gather a more in-depth understanding of Linklater and the purposes of those endings. This kind of spoiler also applies to more exhaustive articles on films written AFTER the film has been released: for instance, a piece exploring the ending of 'Iron Man 3' would be fine after the reader has had a chance to see it. Then there is the 'Rodrigo Perez'-style, where he will drop spoilers WITHOUT WARNING not because he wants to draw the reader into a more academic debate on the film's merits, but really because he does not know how to write criticism above the intellectual level of "and then this person did this, and IT'S SO STUPID, he, he, he …" People – unsurprisingly – would like the FILMMAKERS to reveal key plot points in the story, not critics, and – even if they were partial to a critic revealing said story developments – I doubt they would appreciate the childish antics of Go-Rez. If you want to discuss the film in detail, I would be happy to read the review, but only AFTER I have experienced the film for myself.

Flood

I enjoy reading The Playlist but the reviews are consistently terrible. You always review the story rather than the movie. Six paragraphs and not a mention of any of this film's many cinematic achievements. Abrahamson uses empathy and tension to wring high drama out of everyday tragedy (in that respect it reminded me of A Seperation). He's a formally gifted director who improves with every film, and he deserves a bit of credit.

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