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FILM REVIEW: What Richard Did - intelligent and incisive screenplay by Mansfield writer

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Acclaimed Irish director, Lenny Abrahamson (Adam And Paul, Garage), returns with the deeply troubling moral drama, What Richard Did.

Loosely based on Kevin Power’s novel, Bad Day In Blackrock, which is itself inspired by a real life incident, the film follows Richard during his summer between college and university when Richard does something that threatens to destroy his life.

The film’s intelligent and incisive screenplay, written by former Mansfield resident Malcolm Campbell, introduces us to a group of young people who have everything to lose. Richard (Jack Reynor) is part of the social elite - at 18 and with ready access to his parent’s beach house, Richard is well mannered and knows how to cook a good steak. A respected member of the rugby team, Richard is ambitious, hoping to play professional rugby while studying full time.

For all his privilege, Richard is not obnoxious or unpleasant but is fair and easy to like. Swerving common stereotypes, Campbell’s characters are not delinquents, yobs, or loutish sports players - instead a party at Richard’s beach house is spent simply chatting over a few beers. Richard is levelheaded, revered by his peer group and looks out for younger members of his team. But Richard is not perfect and Abrahamson slowly and carefully reveals Richard’s not uncommon flaws. Brought to life by natural performances from a talented supporting cast, What Richard Did is honest and persuasive.

Abrahamson’s presentation of what Richard does is remarkably understated and entirely plausible. Only the next day are the consequences of Richard’s actions fully understood. The unexceptional nature of these youths and the plausibility of their actions combine to make What Richard Did a sobering comment on society.

Campbell’s penetrating screenplay is punctuated with references to childhood - whether it’s in the exchange of childhood stories between Richard and girlfriend Lara (Roisin Murphy), Richard’s agonising plea beneath the old treehouse, or the copy of The Hobbit Richard reads to distract himself from his regret - these reminders of former innocence lend a richness to What Richard Did that make it utterly compelling.

Actor Jack Reynor is a superb discovery, giving Richard heartfelt intensity as he takes us deep into the darkest moments of his guilt. Reynor capably delivers in lingering shots of Richard’s silent contemplation and in scenes of isolated, piercing anguish that make uncomfortable viewing. Reynor and Lars Mikkelsen - who plays Richard’s father - excel in a gut-wrenching scene of mutual agony and despair that is moving and desperately sad.

In the wake of Richard’s actions, Abrahamson’s slow and deliberate style momentarily gives way to bursts of action before settling into a steady and careful portrayal of Richard’s internal moral debate. The cinematography by David Grennan captures this torment in an often sombre palate of grey and blue that lends a depressing realism to the visuals. Grennan’s cinematography embodies Abrahamson’s naturalistic style throughout, evoking the beauty of Ireland’s natural landscape under early morning skies and pale pink sunset.

What Richard Did is a powerful and oppressive psychological drama benefitting from superb naturalistic performances and an understated portrayal of events. Abrahamson’s What Richard did is a truthful moral drama for the present-day that leaves many questions open for debate.

What Richard Did is now showing at Nottingham Broadway.

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 88 minutes

Verdict: 5/5

 

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