Sydney Film Festival: What Richard Did

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Irish indie hit, What Richard Did, follows a university-bound alpha male over the course of a hedonistic summer, and the haunting accident that threatens his future.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, the story focuses less on the tragedy itself, preferring instead to address its aftershocks. Abrahamson establishes a gilded community, taking time to cultivate his characters, not least that of Jack Reynor – exceptional as the eponymous, de-facto leader; often seen wearing his jacket collar up and smoking cigarettes like they’re going out of fashion.

The naturalistic style of direction is at its most effective when very little is actually happening, often when Reynor is silent. In one scene, set at an 18th birthday party, we find him observing the room; conflicting nuances in his eyes and pining for a girl (Roisin Murphy) that will ultimately lead to the death of a peer. In another, Reynor is shown reluctantly listening to a friend’s rendition of an Irish song. His Richard is so spoilt, financially and socially-speaking, that he depends on the affection and support of others.

Abrahamson’s film works, for the most part, out of its subtlety rather than escalation. He exemplifies Reynor’s vulnerability when he makes an impromptu run into the sea or wistfully stares out the window of his family’s summer retreat. And as the damage of the crime spreads through their gilded community, Reynor’s guilt tests the seemingly impenetrable ties of family. Lars Mikkelsen, torn between his paternal role and moral duties, provides strong support as Reynor’s father.

What Richard Did is a slow-burning meditation on morality, dictated through emotionally complex characters and refined direction. Reynor, much lauded for his role, is going to be a star of the future.

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