Upon first hearing about What Richard Did, the title conjured up images of a children’s novel detailing the mischievous adventures of a young boy – a male counterpart to What Katy Did, if you will. In actuality, the film is a devastating and thoroughly engrossing tale of a young man who is forced to grapple with the heady feelings of guilt and morality, after he is involved in an incident that results in the death of a peer.
It’s summer. Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is just an ordinary South Dublin lad. He’s confident, brash and charming. He plays rugby. He drinks pints and he occasionally smokes. He is in love. The world is his oyster. Then, one fateful night, it all goes wrong for him. In a jealous, alcohol-fueled rage, he does something that he can’t take back.
The film, based loosely on the book “Bad Day in Blackrock”, is the fourth film from Irish auteur Lenny Abrahamson. In the vein of his previous films, Adam & Paul and Garage, What Richard Did is a low-key, complex character study. However, where those stories focused on characters living on the fringe of society, Abrahamson here broaches the subject of privilege. The characters that populate What Richard Did are cut from the same cloth as the objects of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s mockery. But Abrahamson doesn’t ever present them as objects for vilification or derision and the films bears his characteristically even-handed, measured touch.
As the titular Richard, Jack Reynor is a force to be reckoned with. It’s an electrifying performance that anchors the film and marks Reynor as one to watch. As Richard’s stoic, Scandinavian father, Lars Mikkelsen is terrific and the confrontation between Richard and his father is one of the film’s most compelling scenes. As Richard’s girlfriend and nemesis respectively, Roisin Murphy and Sam Keeley also deserve special kudos for their performances.
What distinguishes this film from other Irish films of its ilk is its authenticity. The dialogue is pitch-perfect, while the young performers are all utterly believable in their roles. It is a blistering and sometimes disturbing portrayal of Irish youth, but one that steers clear of the hysteria that so often overwhelms such youth-centric films.
Urgent and moving, What Richard Did ranks among the best films of the year, Irish or otherwise, Run, don’t walk.