DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRI: Malcolm Campbell • PRO: Ed Guiney • DOP: David Grennan • ED: Nathan Nugent • DES: Stephanie Clerkin • Cast: Jack Reynor, Roisin Murphy, Sam Keeley, Gavin Drea
Although director Lenny Abrahamson is keen to stress that What Richard Did is separate from the Brian Murphy / Annabel’s case, it’s impossible to watch this without acknowledging it in some manner. There are simply too many similarities between the two to be ignored. That said, the film doesn’t comment on the case or the social / class issues that the case raised in Irish society. What Richard Did is a study of pressure and consequence. The titular character, Richard (Jack Reynor), is the atypical Celtic Tiger cub. He’s young, affluent and attends a private school in South Dublin. However, as the film progresses, it’s slowly revealed that Richard is not as happy as he initially seems. Constantly held up as the example and alpha of his peers, the conditioning that is worked on him begins to take its toll on him. As he begins a relationship with Lara (Roisin Murphy) that sees his teammate Conor (Sam Keeley) edged out, the film’s emotional content comes to the fore and culminates in a violent encounter outside a house party.
Abrahamson’s direction is muted and stable. There are no cinematic flourishes; here, the cinematography matches the mood of each individual scene. When Richard is withdrawn and sullen, the colours drop to a dull, familiar grey and pulled over curtains. As well as this, the dialogue is both authentic and economical. Malcolm Campbell’s script cleverly leaves out the characters’ thoughts and emotions in dialogue, instead allowing the actors to portray them using their own means. In particular, one scene involving Richard finally cracking from the tension is riveting to watch. Screaming wordlessly and pounding like a maniac, Reynor’s performance is unsettling and difficult to watch, but is also entirely believable. Supporting Reynor is Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen who plays his father, Peter. Mikkelsen’s measured tones and glacial exterior hint at someone who’s dealt with emotional issues like what Richard is going through – though not to his extent.
Overall, What Richard Did is a powerful drama that doesn’t cast judgement on individuals or society as a whole. It simply tells the story of a young man and his attempts to cope with unbearable pressure. The film’s pacing is slow and, at times, it can seem like the story isn’t moving forward – instead focusing on an individual mood or scene. However, nothing feels superfluous or unnecessary – it’s more that the point or thrust of a scene is being hammered home when it doesn’t need to be. It’s a minor complaint in an otherwise exceptional film. Both Reynor and Abrahamson have marked themselves out as singular talents; this is Reynor’s first lead role and will go on to impress again. Likewise, Abrahamson continues to lead the pack in Irish cinema and will undoubtedly move beyond our shores to become a force to be reckoned with.