What Richard Did

Having explored the margins of Irish society in his first two films, Adam & Paul and Garage, director Lenny Abrahamson moves towards the centre of things with his new film What Richard Did, set in the leafy suburbs of South Dublin, and finds it can be just as lonely and rotten a place. Sensitively photographed and superbly acted by a talented young ensemble, the film is a major step forward for Abrahamson; a riveting, daringly ambiguous drama that defines a generation.

Loosely adapted by writer Malcolm Campbell from Kevin Power’s novel Bad Day in Blackrock, itself inspired by a notorious real-life violent crime, Abrahamson opens the story with a languid sequence at a summer house party in a holiday villa in Wicklow that carefully establishes the tone. Richard (Jack Reynor) has borrowed his doting parent’s (Lars Mikkelsen and Lorraine Pilkington) place for the weekend to celebrate the end of exams and the university fun to come. 

A private-school student and captain of the rugby team, Richard is a leader among his peers, who look to him to guide them through their tricky teenage years. Among the kids hanging out on the beach is Lara (Roisin Murphy), who is in a relationship with Conor (Sam Keeley). As the summer continues, Richard sets his sights on Lara and the two start dating. But the heart-broken Conor keeps hanging around, making the previously confident and carefree Richard uncomfortable and insecure.

Jealousy, alcohol and bravado combine for a momentary brain-freeze. At a drunken house party deep in the suburbs, Richard becomes involved in an altercation with Conor. Badly hurt, the young man staggers away as Richard jumps into a taxi and goes home. The next morning, the radio news tells us that Conor has died. The fallout drops slowly, settling like a layer of radioactive dust across Richard’s life and the lives of those closest to him.

Unlike Abrahamson’s previous two films, Richard isn’t so much a victim of an uncaring society as its over-confident scion. He’s brilliantly played by newcomer Reynor, who combines an easy, swaggering affability with a brittle fragility, sometimes in the same scene. The ensemble cast are strong, with Murphy and Keeley distinguishing themselves in delicately drawn roles that, like the titular protagonist, skip lightly between obnoxiousness and overwhelming compassion: just like real teenagers. As the story inches towards its resolution and Richard grapples with his guilty conscience, Abrahamson deliberately avoids passing judgement on his characters, providing just enough information and the storytelling space for audiences to draw their own conclusions. The best Irish drama of the year, this hugely impressive and complex film is a must see.

No comments: