Mild Spoilers Below
The latest Irish movie to make waves in the news is What Richard Did. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson it is inspired in part by Kevin Power‘s Bad Day in Blackrock which in turn is based on the killing of Brian Murphy outside of Club Anabelle. The stories all contain similar themes, teenagers from privileged backgrounds with all to live for and the death of a young person in tragic, unnecessary circumstances. If anyone could handle this delicate theme, Lenny Abrahamson could. An example of this was Adam and Paul which was heart warming and breaking at the same time.
So knowing what I did the story had a sense of foreboding from the start. It opens with scenes and stories of wealth, comfort and a carefree lifestyle. All of a sudden I was transported back to my days in UCD during the Celtic Tiger. Rugby boys? Check. Golf VW? Check. Upturned collars on Hollister and A&F? Check. That “distinctive” South Dublin twang? Check. Country kids (like me) sticking out a mile? Check. These young, beautiful people partied all weekend in a free gaff which was a beach front property in Wicklow. All before returning to their comfortable period properties in leafy South County Dublin.
It would be so easy to make a parody out of these teens and their lifestyle in general, like Ross O’Carroll Kelly. However the direction and script, written by Malcolm Campbell, thankfully avoids this. The teens are shown as warm, friendly kids who are just looking to have a good time and are treated very sympathetically. More importantly they act, dress and speak in an age appropriate manner, using the slang of the area and have the mannerisms that many of us have come to associate with real life folks from the area. Ask any ex-UCD student, the phrases are all there! The movie avoided making them too polarised, you had good and bad, happiness and troubles and all the things that make characters realistic.
Even though it was called What Richard Did it was really obvious that Richard was the one who was going to mess up,with fatal consequences. At the start a real effort was made to try and make the audience like him. Yes he was a posh fellow but he was polite, friendly, ambitious and had good relationships with his family (especially his Dad) and his peers. He helped friends by covering for them to their mothers, saved others from pervy friends and went to a G.A.A. club for an 18th (shock horror!) despite groans of objection from others.
Despite this I never really could like him in the way that some other reviews had. I also felt like I was being pushed to like him in an obvious way. But he was showing major signs of selfishness, disloyalty, jealousy, possessiveness and aggression early on. I was in no way surprised when the assault happened and his actions in the aftermath. His portrayal was done in such a way that everyone will have a different view of him and what he did, which is just what a story should do. The facts were presented and a good discussion created. There was plenty of it outside the cinema afterwards I can assure you!
If I could erase anything from my memory it would be the assault itself. It was directed excellently, disturbingly so, and showed exactly how one stupid, rash action can impact so many lives. The sound of the head on the pavement will haunt me forever and when it was on screen the whole cinema audience gasped in shock. It was not glorified or gory, it was realistic, and that was what was so frightening about it. The fact that they left their friend after the assault was as horrifying and disturbing.
The skill of the actors came to the fore in the aftermath of the killing. Jack Reynor who played Richard Karlson was fantastic. The way he brought the breakdown, the guilt and the self-preservation to light was skilfully done. He was never too full-on and gave the audience just enough to keep us wondering what Richard would do next, would it be more lies and covering-up or would he confess to help the victim’s family with their grief? I won’t say who died so not to spoil it for anyone who has not seen it.
Another person of note was Lars Mikkleson who played Peter Karlson, Richard’s Dad. Most of us know him from The Killing where he played Troels Hartmann, not that you would recognise him in Dad mode! The scene of the funeral and when Richard confesses to the killing are intense and powerful, well done to both of them for their sensitive performances.
The only aspect of the story that I didn’t buy was the romance with Lara (played by Roisin Murphy). I could see no reason that herself and Richard would get together, or stay together for that matter. She witnesses the killing and stays silent but rejects him. Then at the funeral takes him home and they rekindle their romance. Now people do strange things but I could not understand why would anyone who witnessed that level of aggression, lying and secret keeping would then just forgive that person. Especially after hearing the victim’s mother begging for the perpetrators to own up and the cowardice then displayed by Richard. I would have liked this to be explained more as maybe there was something that I missed. The mind boggles!
Although the story is a tragic one it is not without humour which offers some light relief. Granted after the killing messing rightfully dries up, but just like Adam and Paul, it provides a nice introduction to the characters and adds some great entertainment value. In particular the drunken heart-to-heart among the boys at the start was really funny and served to remind us that at 18, these kids are just young adults who are just stepping out into the world and all it’s experiences. There was even a cameo from a carton of Lidl apple juice in a posh South Dublin home. Intentional? Maybe….
Before going to see this you must be in the mood for seeing quite an “arty” movie. There are plenty of shots of the sea, skies, Dublin buildings, long panned out shots of the cast etc. It added beautifully to the narrative but you really need to be in the mood to think and to look at people who are looking at other things for quite sometime.
Overall I think it is a considered telling of the story which does not glamorise the killing or the aftermath. It shows the characters for who they are, warts and all, apart from Lara who I found to be a bit puzzling and I don’t think her character was developed nearly enough. It did leave me wanting to know more about what happened to Richard afterwards, not that I particularly cared for him. Humour and tragedy were balanced and never felt inappropriate or insensitive. I don’t think I would watch it again, mostly because it was just so sad at parts, the mother’s speech at the funeral in particular, but I would recommend that you see it at least once.
What Richard Did is in cinemas now.