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What Richard Did
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by Daniel Kelly

"Reynor before Bay"
5 stars

“What Richard Did” is a chilling and powerful hunk of cinema, a film that deals in no uncertain terms with some huge themes, detailing them in ways that far transcend the grasp of cliché or melodrama. The picture grips like a vice for the entirety of its brief 88 minute runtime, setting its title character up with balance and poise, before putting him through the wringer for the duration of acts two and three. “What Richard Did” features no gore, impalements or murders, but with its deeply human core and devastatingly tragic observations it is very possibly the scariest film of 2013 so far.

Richard (newcomer Jack Reynor) is a popular teen, a handsome athlete with a bevy of friends, loving family and a positive outlook on life. He generally conducts himself in a compassionate fashion; his present nearly as bright as the sporting future he has mapped out. During the summer between the end of school and start of university, Richard falls for Lara (Roisin Murphy), the two connecting with effortless grace on both an emotional and physical level. However Lara has her fair share of admirers, including heartbroken Conor (Sam Keeley), who incidentally plays on the same Rugby team as Richard. After a house-party goes sour, Richard and Lara endure a lover’s tiff, only for Conor to spring into defensive action on the lady’s part. What happens next changes the course of all their lives forever.

“What Richard Did” debuted at festivals in 2012 and received a theatrical release earlier this year. In the interim period since then its young lead has been snapped up by Michael Bay to replace Shia LaBeouf in the “Transformers” franchise. This leap from small Irish drama to Hollywood blockbuster should strongly indicate how impressive Jack Reynor’s performance is here, a measured and balanced piece of acting that flits naturally between unassuming contentment and utter torment. “What Richard Did” is the story of a boy, once thought to be pure and upstanding, who finds out what he’s truly made off when the chips are down and things spiral horribly out of control. Reynor’s work not only communicates the complexities of his moral dilemma with a very humane touch, but also successfully allows the audience to access his guilt, to ask themselves “what would I do?” It’s an outstanding and phenomenally mature characterisation, and one that suggests Reynor is a thespian of remarkable potential. Is Michael Bay the auteur to tap into such a reservoir of raw talent? Errr… well that remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure; talent Reynor most certainly possesses.

The feature is directed by Lenny Abrahamson, a Dublin born film-maker with whose sparse work I am unfamiliar. On the basis of “What Richard Did” Abrahamson is one to keep an eye on, both his direction and Michael Campbell’s screenplay boasting an authenticity which defines the picture and its fascinating conundrum. Visually the movie is restrained and features the hallmarks of a tight budget, but its thrifty appearance doesn’t translate into the drama or indeed Abrahamson’s technique, both of which highlight an intelligence and depth one can’t help but appreciate. Abrahamson values the craft of acting and the importance of nuanced character, nearly everybody in the film bestowed with a vital pulse and unique perspective on Richard. It’s an engaging plot because the feature adheres so devotedly to reality, depicting people we recognise and conjuring emotions we legitimately fear. There’s no flash or bang required here, with a steady eye and unflinching attention to mental strain Abrahamson provides more tension and thought than any summer blockbuster in recent memory.

“What Richard Did” isn’t an easy watch and it commands respect and patience, the picture only really getting underway after the 30 minute mark. However for those who prefer their art organic and emotionally sincere, this slow-burning start is a gift, allowing the film-maker to find a rhythm and purpose within his leading character, to quietly explore his world and the dynamics which populate it. Of course when things take a turn for the worse the feature gets pretty upsetting, but there’s a horrible beauty to be found within its agile musings on guilt and grief, an honesty that simply blew me away. This is an explosive work, and I suspect not the last time you’ll see the names Jack Reynor and Lenny Abrahamson attached to ecstatic prose. [A]

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originally posted: 05/04/13 15:12:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Lenny Abrahamson

Written by
  Malcolm Campbell

  Jack Reynor
  Roisin Murphy
  Sam Keeley
  Lars Mikkelsen

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