What Richard Did Review

(2.5 STARS)

A film that’s equal parts quiet and disquieting, What Richard Did hinges on a single moment. Like Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet last year, the circumstances and consequences surrounding this moment are complicated. Director Lenny Abrahamson presents the moment, its circumstances, and its consequences as an enormous gray area; His camera is never judgmental, his tone never more than observant. And looking at the final product, one can’t help but wonder if a firmer stance in one direction or the other would have served the film better because What Richard Did, for everything it does right, is ultimately too sleepy to fully get behind.

Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is the focus of the film. He’s a well-adjusted, popular, handsome, and smart Irish lad. We observe him in his natural habitat. He plays rugby, drinks beers with his friends, and gently hits on a lovely young lady named Lara (Roisin Murphy). The two ultimately start seeing each other, but Lara’s ex-boyfriend, Conor (Sam Keeley), who’s also a friend of Richard’s, keeps nagging at her to get back with him. At a party, simmering tensions boil over, and something happens that will alter the lives of everyone involved forever.

The film develops in a very low-key and naturalistic way, and Abrahamson’s camera almost never leaves his lead actor. As such, there isn’t much by the way of subplots—only a handful of different characters relating to Richard (and coping with what he did) in different ways. Because that act is both horrifying and extremely complicated, there’s certainly no lack of material to be mined over the course of 90 minutes. But great drama never emerges. The film features some lovely, heartfelt character moments, but they’re gone as quickly as they come. Ultimately, nothing that’s great about this film lingers.

There are some very good performances to be found, however, including that of Jack Reynor. The young man doesn’t have many credits to his name (though he’s been tapped to appear in the next Transformers film), but he makes the most out of a starring role here. The film wouldn’t be anything without his easygoing charm in the film’s first half, which turns into an attention-grabbing sense of distraught responsibility as the film marches toward its conclusion.

The film’s other great performance comes from Lars Mikkelsen, who plays Richard’s father. His (and the film’s) standout scene occurs late when Richard comes clean to him and only him. Over the course of a minute, you see him turn from sympathetic to horrified to protective. All three reactions feel authentic and seem plausible considering the circumstances of the incident. But the two of them together in a moment of pure desperation is something to behold.

It’s unfortunate that “It’s boring” is the best I could do to explain why this film never fully came together for me, but it’s the best I’ve got. What Richard Did does a few things very right, but there’s no way I could unequivocally recommend a film that really drags as often as this one.

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