What Richard Did
In the world of cinema, Richard (Jack Reynor), the 18-year-old title character in Lenny Abrahamson’s hugely impressive third feature, is an anomaly. He’s the most popular kid in school, a rugby star -- a jock -- at ease with himself and surrounded by admirers. Such is this medium’s fascination with high-school losers that we’re instantly on edge in this confident young man’s gregarious company.
There must be something sinister behind that winning smile, we think. When he approaches a skinny kid practicing close-up magic - a geek - we presume golden boy is about to administer a wedgie, not give a brotherly embrace and invite him to hang out at the cool kids’ beach party. And when Richard stumbles across a naïve young lass who’s had too many Bacardi Breezers we expect him to take advantage, not give her a piggyback home. He’s perfect. Or is he?
Richard's charmed existence goes into a tailspin following the action that’s referred to in the title. Based loosely on a real incident that rocked the same south Dublin milieu in which What Richard Did is set, Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell captures the buildup to this turning point in Richard's life and the morally ambiguous quagmire that follows using a vérité style peppered with discombobulating ellipses.
At times the film calls to mind the teen mundanity of Larry Clark, but in the end Abrahamson shows much more compassion for these rich teens unaccustomed to life in the real world; they are up on a pedestal so high that the prospect of falling off chills them to their cores.
As well as its fine-grained veracity, there’s an allegorical quality to the picture too. Abrahamson seems to imply that Richard’s attitude while king of his surroundings and his fall from grace reflects the recent financial collapse of middle-class Ireland and his approach, unlike last year's heavy-handed, Celtic tiger-baiting satire Charlie Cassanova, is stunningly subtle, barely perceptible to the naked eye. But it’s there in the way cosmopolitain Richard smugly mocks a rival player from a working class background after he sings a plaintive Irish ballad in his native Gaelic.
It’s there too in the ruthless manner in which Richard pursues the same boy’s girlfriend and in the way he spits the dummy because she still shows affection for her ex. In these moments it’s clear we’re looking at a spoiled brat unaccustomed to not getting his own way. With brilliant economy Abrahamson implies that in the case of his nation, as with his film’s protagonist, all that glitters is not gold.