Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
Eighteen-year-old Richard is the leader of his local rugby club in Dublin who’s enjoying an idyllic summer of beach house parties with his teammates and their friends. Charming and well-liked by most everyone around him, Richard easily catches the eye of Lara (Roisin Murphy), the would-be girlfriend teammate Connor (Sam Keeley). One drunken night out, tensions run especially high between the two boys causing Richard to lash out with tragic consequences. What follows is an impressive, slow-burning morality tale that I find myself continuing to think about days afterwards.
Typically being the “alpha-male” in a teen film is cause enough for an audience to condemn someone like Richard, nevermind the act upon which the title hinges, and yet Reynor manages to win us over. The interactions amongst his crew early in the film are by turns humorous, immature, and occasionally insulting (as teen boys can get) but above all things, they feel genuine. These are basically likable teens for whom things are going well. We meet Richard’s parents (Lorraine Pilkington and a brilliant Lars Mikkelsen) who are also likable and proud of their son but for the most part are hands off. This too is to the films benefit. When Richard’s underlying rashness gets the better of him, it is to his mates and girlfriend that he turns to first in dealing with the guilt. Abrahamson relies on nothing but ambient sound and hushed conversation to increase the pressure felt by all.
Watching Reynor go through all the stages of his guilt, including a stunning loss of control in Richard’s family’s beach house, is fascinating. That he manages to do it while maintaining a degree of the audience’s sympathy in an objectively awful situation is the real triumph of What Richard Did. It’s a tricky film without any easy answers.