What Richard Did, 2012.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Starring Jack Reynor, Roisin Murphy, Sam Keeley and Lars Mikkelsen
An ambitious 6th-form student’s life is changed when a night out ends in tragedy.
‘What Richard Did‘ is a loaded title. It’s in the past tense. It makes everything before the ‘act’ feel similarly long gone. Like a document, or an inquiry, or a tabloid headline. It presupposes a tragedy. So it’s a testament to Lenny Abrahamson’s direction how fun the opening half hour is.
Richard (Jack Reynor) and his friends talk like real sixteen-year-olds. Or at least, how you imagined you talked when you were their age. They have an effortless banter, one that’s entirely naturalistic, as though improvised on set. Richard even manages a drunken “you know what, this ain’t gay, but I’d speak to you guys about anything.” There’s a youthful optimism and hope to their camaraderie. Richard has his life mapped out. He’ll become a professional rugby player. Everything’s in place, and what could be more comforting?
The love of a girl, of course. Lara (Roisin Murphy) is tremendously pretty, a cross between Megan Fox and Natalie Portman. But a young Natalie Portman, like in Leon. And Irish. The film is acted and directed with such finesse, that a single glance between the two – Richard and Lara, that is; not Megan Fox and Natalie Portman – convinces us of their attraction. But Lara has a boyfriend. And he plays on Richard’s rugby team.
But love at that age can be rather overwhelming, and the two go for it anyway. Lara dumps her boyfriend, and begins a relationship with Richard. Their chatter is equally as effortless and naturalistic as that which Richard shared with his friends near the beginning. He’s found what he was looking for. The opposite of “gay” and he can talk to her about anything.
As naturalistic and improvised as the film appears, such echoes can’t have happened by chance. As Lara and Richard’s conversations recall the film’s beginning, their current one foreshadows a significant later. They reveal to each other their childhood fears. Richard slept in his parents’ bed for a month when his wardrobe opened for no reason one night. An exaggeration, probably, but no less endearing.
So it is to his father, Peter (Lars Mikkelson), Richard runs when his youthful innocence is dashed in a twilight fight. His relationship with Lara, as can often be with puppy love, is smothering. He becomes jealous, snappy. The descent’s difficult to watch because of how likeable Richard was at the start.
The pivotal act – the loss of innocence – is shocking, but in a dull way, like how your stomach churns when it knows you’ve done something wrong. This ‘gut feeling’ is simply a manifestation of what you’ve known what the act would be all along, when you first saw the name of the film. What Richard Did. It’s foreboding from the start, and now all the anxiety that’s been boiling unknown in the background lurches forward with a crippling intensity.
A few scenes are so overwhelming with guilt that you hold your breath for its duration. Their end brings a grateful exhale from the audience. As does the film’s ending, sudden and all-the-more unsettling for it. The cinema stayed seated long into the credits, exhaling in infrequent chorus. Some might think What Richard Did ends with a ‘whimper’, but in truth, the film is actually one, tortuously drawn-out, ‘bang’.
What Richard Did is currently in cinemas on a limited release.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★