There is only one thing wrong with What Richard Did, and that is its title. The film is 90 minutes long and the event the title refers to takes place at around (I’m guessing here) the halfway mark. Where a traditional film might take 20 minutes setting up the narrative before the ‘inciting event’* occurs, waiting to halfway through means that you are constantly looking for what could possibly be the event rather than fully absorbing yourself in the lives of the characters.
That aside, this is magnificent film making. I’m going to sidestep the story so as not to ruin anything, except to say that the film follows Richard, an 18-year-old Irish boy and rugby prospect, as he spends time with friends – both rugby club-mates and school friends – and builds a relationship with Lara, a girl he steals from another of the players. And then an incident occurs and Richard has to deal with the aftermath.
There are three things I want to highlight about the film.
1. The performances of all the actors are incredible, especially given that many are non-professional actors (or so I’m led to believe). Jack Reynor, who plays Richard, gives an incredible central performance, embracing charm, comedy, bravura, romance, aggression, fear. I’d love to see him go on and build a career because I doubt I’ll see a better performance this year.
2. The directing (Lenny Abrahamson) and editing (Nathan Nugent) is brilliant. The film puts in just the right amount of information for each scene, deftly chopping them down to the core details without ever letting the film feel anything other than naturalistic. Every word spoken sounds authentic – something which is rarely the case for a film about school and college children – but not only that, it doesn’t sound like a film at all. The story develops totally organically.
3. Pretty much every film about school/college kids is, to some degree or other, misogynistic, be it The Inbetweeners, Project X, Superbad. They all tend to focus on the lads and have a leering attitude toward the girls. That may be in the way the boys talk about the girls, or the way the girls are photographed in bikinis or underwear – it tends to be that the girls are there as some kind of window-dressing. The characters are not treated as people but as objects to one extreme or another. Here there is no letching, either from the boys or from the camera, and the girls featured (and Lara in particular) feel like real people inhabiting this world, not just there for the entertainment or lust of the boys. It’s refreshing to see, and kind of startling when you realise how infrequently it is seen on screen.
All in all, What Richard Did is stunning and gut-wrenching film making. It’s not showy, it’s not stunning because of the images on screen, because of explosions or beautiful photography. It’s stunning because it’s so well controlled, because the story is told without being told. It just unfolds. It’s stunning because the performances are so well judged and real. It’s stunning because you believe every moment.
*I hate myself for using that term, a call back to my university days
The trailer below has a very melancholy feel which perhaps isn’t fair on the film. It’s worth noting that you can stream the film at home through Curzon Online