Richard spent the weekend hanging out with his friends. Richard started dating Lara. Richard had a family cookout with his rugby coach. Richard grew jealous of Conor’s intimate friendship with Lara. Richard went shopping. And Richard slept with Lara at his family’s beach house. That’s what Richard did. Oh, and Richard killed someone.
At a particularly rowdy party, Richard (newcomer Jack Reynor) let his jealousy go unchecked and took it out on unsuspecting Conor (Sam Keeley). They both threw some punches and Richard’s friends jumped into the fray, but, when the fight gets broken up, it appears that everyone is OK. Even after Richard delivers a nasty kick to Conor’s head, the boy is still seen walking around (although he doesn’t look too hot). However, the following morning news reports announce that Conor was found dead.
The authorities question Richard and his friends, but they downplay the violence of the incident. The guilt begins to weigh heavily on Richard. It causes a rift in his relationship with Lara (Roisin Murphy) and his friendship with the other boys involved. Richard unloads his feelings and the truth onto his father (Lars Mikkelsen), who is just as determined to keep Richard’s involvement under wraps. He advises Richard to lay low at the beach house, hoping that the whole thing will blow over.
But solitude isn’t quite what Richard needs. His guilt drives him mad, and his inaction drives him madder. All of which is conveyed beautifully by Jack Reynor. He effortlessly captures Richard’s internal struggle. You can physically see it weighing him down. And his climactic emotional breakdown is sure to bring a tear or two to your eyes. It is also such a harrowing moment that you might actually feel uncomfortable watching it—he is that good. The bulk of the film rests on Reynor’s shoulders, and he is perfectly suited to bear that responsibility (just think what he will bring to the new Transformers movie).
What Richard Did is adapted from Kevin Power’s novel Bad Day in Blackrock (not to be confused with the Spencer Tracy thriller Bad Day at Black Rock). While the novel, which is, in turn, based on true events, follows the crime to its trial, delving into the lives of all those involved, the film focuses solely on Richard journey, avoiding the courtroom altogether. Screenwriter Malcolm Campbell’s emphasis on Richard makes the film feel more personal and powerful. And director Lenny Abrahamson earnestly captures the intimacy of the story.
Yet, as great as Reynor’s performance is, and as intimate as Abrahamson’s film is overall, What Richard Did does try your patience. The first third of the film is a very slow build to reveal what Richard does. From there it is a slow exploration of his guilt and its manifestations. You find yourself waiting for something to actually happen. Will Richard be arrested? Will a friend give him up? Will he turn himself in to deal with his guilt? There is so much bubbling anticipation that what actually happens feels ultimately anti-climactic, leaving you with a wayward feeling at the film’s conclusion.
Despite the adrift feeling of the ending, this is really a performance-driven story. And Reynor’s breakout performance makes the rest of the film worth it (more so than Rockwell’s performance in A Single Shot). What Richard Did blessedly lacks the overbearing moodiness of similar films, allowing you to become comfortably invested in the lead character. And if the open ending of the film frustrates you, and you really want to know what becomes of Richard (or if you are just really interested in this story and it’s real-life counterpart), you can read the book.
If you are unable to see the film during its run at the Tribeca Film Festival, it is available on VOD and iTunes. Or, if you live in New York City, you can check it out on May 10th during its exclusive theatrical engagement at Cinema Village.