What Richard Did is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Malcolm Campbell, based loosely on Kevin Power’s Bad Day in Blackrock. This compelling and powerfully acted drama won best Irish Film of the Year at the 10th Irish Film and Television Awards.
18-year-old Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor, in an astounding performance) is a talented and admired athlete and the alpha-male leader of his upper middle-class Dublin sect of friends. During the summer between the end of school and the beginning of university, Richard and his friends take a trip away. It is there that he meets Lara (Roisin Murphy), at that time dating one of Richard’s teammates, Conor (Sam Keeley). Attracted to Richard, Lara eventually leaves Conor, though the two boys remain uneasy friends. But one night intoxication, jealousy and challenged masculinity lead to a violent incident that shatters Richard’s perfect life and leaves him grappling with guilt and moral obligation.
This is about a young man coming to terms with the idea that any assurances he had about his future need to be kept in check. He learns about life’s unpredictability and how a single act can change the entire avenue of his life, and pose a significant threat on his family’s social standing. Richard’s quick decision is with the understanding that his actions have no consolation. He equates carrying this burden for the rest of his life to a punishment. He keeps his involvement a secret, perhaps with the misguided belief that his complacency will be somehow pardoned.
The scenes prior to the incident are a series of naturally staged and acted party sequences of the teens wasting away the idyllic summer period, and familiarizing us with Richard’s personality and rapport with his mates. Following the incident it is one compelling sequence after another. Whether Richard is coping with his guilt in isolation, turning to his father for advice like a scared little boy, or manning up and convincing his friends to keep to their cover story, it resonates.
Richard is a handsome, suave ladies man. We get a sense of privilege and entitlement from him, but he is not an unlikable guy. His sullen frustrations and burning jealousy are understandable emotions; his volatile aggression fueled by alcohol, his physicality and his natural instincts to defend himself. Reynor is the standout from the cast, but the rest of the youngsters are impressive too.
This is an emotionally hard hitting film. What transpires, and I have purposefully decided not to discuss this too much, could happen to anyone. This tautly structured drama about the moral quandaries of a privileged class and a cock-sure youth dealing with guilt and irresponsibility is well worth seeking out.
Andrew Buckle – follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22