Last Monday I went to the Lighthouse Cinema (my new local!) to see What Richard Did, the new film by Lenny Abrahamson. Abrahamson is a filmmaker I have long been aware of and I keep meaning to see his films Garage and Adam and Paul. Having seen What Richard Did, Abrahamson’s other two films are now on my must watch list.
What Richard Did is based on the controversial 2010 novel Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Power, which in turn was based on the murder of Brian Murphy outside Anabel’s nightclub in Dublin on August 31st 2000. The murder garnered a lot of media attention at the time due to the fact that the four young men accused of the murder were from good families, grew up in affluent Dublin suburbs and went to prestigious schools. When the usual excuses – “he’s got a drug problem”, “he’s from a bad family”, “his father’s in prison” – go out the window one is left with a troubling question: how can someone who has apparently been given every advantage in life still commit such a devastating crime?
Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is an eighteen-year-old boy from South County Dublin who appears to have it all. He comes from a loving and well-off family, he’s popular and confident, he’s captain of his school rugby team, everything seems to suggest he will go on to a comfortable and successful if somewhat predictable life. He fancies Lara (Roisin Murphy) who at the start of the film is involved with Conor (Sam Keeley) and eventually they get together. The scenes of their budding teenage romance are beautifully filmed and filled with innocent charm. One night at a house party Richard and his friends drink too much and Richard sees Lara flirting with her ex. A fight ensues and as Richard says later, “it all got out of hand”. One drunken mistake has the potential to derail Richard’s entire future and how he handles this and the impact this has on him and his family provide the crux of the plot.
Abrahamson has created a thoughtful film which is a study of morality and how the examples we are given in early life influence the people we will become. The characters are well written and ring true, and the depiction of modern day teenage life reminded me of many of the people I hung out with at that age. Jack Reynor is a skilled actor, transforming his character from his initial charisma and confidence to a selfish, cowardly and confused young man. I’m sure a great acting career is on the cards for Reynor if he wants it and I’ll be interested to watch his progress.
It would have been easy for a director to sensationalise this film, to over-egg it and amp up the drama, pandering to the apparently insatiable curiosity Irish people have regarding the murder case. Abrahamson has not in any way done this and consequently What Richard Did is a powerful film that stayed with me long after I left the cinema. Highly recommended.