By being cast in the upcoming Transformers 4, Irish actor Jack Reynor has entered the spotlight before pretty much anyone has ever heard of him. It's a tough situation for an actor-- can you be over-hyped before you're even famous?-- but an ideal one for a movie like What Richard Did at a festival like Tribeca. It's the film that Michael Bay saw and inspired him to cast Reynor, and as a calling card for an actor with great things ahead of him, it's pretty impeccable.
The film itself-- crisply shot and directed with a lot of intuition for emotion by Lenny Abrahamson-- is a little too much of a slow burn, as we spend a long time following golden boy Richard (Reynor) while that ominous title looms and promises destruction. The story indeed hinges on what Richard did, and Reynor and Abrahamson do a fine job of introducing a high school rugby player with a good heart and ambitions whose darker turn surprises everyone else as much as it does him. We see Richard usher home a girl being preyed on by another boy, watch him suavely court another girl (Roisin Murphy) and take his time before bedding her, and even get along well with his parents (Lars Mikkelsen and Lorraine Pilking), who tease him lightly about his drinking but clearly like him as much as everyone else does.
The title may have you wondering if Richard is a secret serial killer or rapist, but What Richard Did operates in the much subtler and murkier world of teenage boys, who love each other (Richard even jokes that they're all secretly gay for how much roughhousing they do) but harbor fierce jealousies, especially when girls get involved. Spending time with Richard and his gang in the film's first half can feel slow, but they're all funny and appealing in their own realistic way. If the film were titled something more generic, it might just feel like a naturalistic love story, a more authentic version of Pretty in Pink where the love of a smart girl helps a popular guy learn to live. But with the promise of doom What Richard Did unspools with misplaced tension… and when the shoe finally does drop, the swerve to melodrama doesn't quite match the buildup.
Then again, the film's third act features some astonishing acting-- including a riveting scene between Reynor and Mikkelsen as father and son-- and a remarkably nuanced portrait of a small community in crisis. With Abrahamson moving forward to Frank, with Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal starring, he has all the makings of a director on the rise-- and obviously Reynor does too. If What Richard Did is essentially a too-familiar story dressed up with fine acting and skilled direction, it's at least a way to get in on the ground floor of two talents who aim to wow us many times in the future.
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