What Richard Did Review
Present-day Ireland. Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is eighteen years old, a star rugby player and the only child of a well-off family. You know the type: charismatic, at the centre of his group of friends, the world his oyster, fully expecting to make a name for himself. It's the summer after the end of school and before he goes to University and he's determined to enjoy himself. He is attracted to Lara (Roisín Murphy), but she still feels attraction to his teammate Conor (Sam Keeley). The tension erupts at a drunken party and Richard and Conor fight and something happens which threatens to derail Richard's life altogether...
That's as far as I go in to What Richard Did as regards plot spoilers, though this isn't a film easily spoiled by them. The event I refer to above certainly overshadows the remaining half of a not especially long film, but the emphasis is on the choices the characters make in relation to it. Do they do the right thing – and in these circumstances what is the right thing? You may or may not agree that it is, but director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Michael Campbell (the script based on the novel Bad Day at Blackrock by Kevin Power) invite you to decide for yourself. The ending is not as open as it might seem to be, but it is in keeping with this principle. In the meantime, there's a lot of detail to be picked up about an Ireland which had a boom, but for many that bubble has now burst.
Lenny Abrahamson (born in Dublin in 1966) made his first short film in 1991, but spent the next thirteen years making commercials before his first feature, Adam & Paul, in 2004. That was followed by Garage and a TV serial Prosperity, both in 2007. I haven't seen any of those, but what is clear from What Richard Did is a sense of assurance, of someone fully in command of his filmmaking craft. The main sense is of an unaffected, unforced naturalism, enhanced by the Scope camerawork of David Grennan and a very spare music score by Stephen Rennicks, but the seeming simplicity disguises considerable artfulness. A key scene where the sun flares into the camera may seem accidental but it clearly isn't. The mainly young cast are very well directed and convincing – some of their conversations were improvised. Among the adults, Lars Mikkelsen (brother of Mads, and best known here as Troels Hartmann in the first series of The Killing) is a strong presence as Richard's possibly over-indulgent Danish father and Gabrielle Reidy makes an impression in a single scene as Conor's mother.
What Richard Did, despite its potentially melodramatic storyline, is naturalistic and low-key to a fault, maybe too much so for some people. But it's a film that rewards your attention and confirms Lenny Abrahamson as a talent to watch.
What Richard Did is released by Artificial Eye on Blu-ray and DVD. This is a review of the Blu-ray edition, and affiliate links refer to that. For those for the DVD, go here.
Shot digitally on the Red camera, What Richard Did is transferred to Blu-ray in a ratio of 2.40:1. It may be set in summer, but it's a British Isles summer where the sun hasn't really come out, and Grennan's camerawork certainly captures that quality of light. Bright colours are rare, but blacks are solid and shadow detail looks fine. Just what a Blu-ray of a new digital-captured feature should look like, in fact.
There are two soundtrack options for this English-language feature: DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM Surround (2.0). This visually unshowy film gets an equally unshowy, dialogue-driven soundtrack, with the surrounds barely used except for ambience and the brief appearances of Rennicks's score. The subwoofer helps out with the bass during a couple of party scenes. And kudos to Artificial Eye for including hard-of-hearing subtitles, something often neglected with releases of anglophone films.
The first extra is a commentary by Lenny Abrahamson and Michael Campbell. This does spend a lot of time describing the scenes we can see in the film itself, but stick with it and Abrahamson in particular does go into some detail about his filmmaking choices, such as his use of improvisation in certain scenes. Inevitably this commentary overlaps quite a bit with the Abrahamson interview also on this disc (39:30), but Abrahamson solo goes on to discuss his way of thinking, especially about the knowability of other people, and how that philosophy is reflected in his films. Interestingly, one key scene between Richard and his father was changed in rehearsal from the way it was written in the script – especially when you consider how much this scene affects the subsequent plot.
Also on the disc are interviews (10:33) which much of the film's young cast: in order, Rachel Gleeson (Eimear), Roisín Murphy, Fionn Walton (Cian), Liana O'Cleirigh (Clodagh), Gavin Drea (Stephen), Patrick Gibson (Jake) and Jack Reynor. This follows the usual EPK pattern of a text question being followed by the interviewee's answers, and its short length prevents it from going into too much depth. The final extra is the theatrical trailer (1:53), presented in a ratio of 2.40:1.