A huge box office earner in its native Ireland last year, Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did (2012) went on to sweep the board at January’s Irish Film and Television Awards. What’s more, both the financial success and critical accolades are entirely justifiable. It’s seldom you see a coming-of-age film which capture the behaviour of teenagers and their world with such authenticity and unflinching honesty. Richard (Jack Reynor) has a confidence with betrays his young years, and possesses the kind of natural leadership qualities and likeable social skills which bode well for the university-bound future ahead of him.
Living in the picturesque, coastal middle-class surroundings of South Dublin, Richard instantly takes a shine to the girlfriend of one of his rugby team-mates (rising star Roisin Murphy) – and the feeling of attraction is more than mutual. Their happiness is short-lived, however, as his cosy world comes crashing down around him after a tragic event at a party, where one moment of misplaced anger presents a potentially life-shattering consequence for the young golden boy.
This third feature from respected Dublin-born director Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, Garage) further establishes him as one of the country’s top filmmakers. He’s incapable of staging even the slightest moment of artifice, and the naturalistic performances he gets from his largely teenage cast are incredible. Reynor, in particular, is magnificent and manages to remain on the side of the audience even when the less appealing aspects of his character surface. Abrahamson’s direction is also free of any distracting stylistic flourishes, and he shows an admirable restraint with the camera and overall visual style (a measured and probing European-like sensibility shines through).
That attention to detail stretches to the script, which is further bolstered by some carefully-crafted moments of improvisation that feel like the director has discreetly pointed his lens at a real-life group of teens, without their knowledge. What Richard Did is packed with quietly devastating moments, none more so affecting than when our protagonist reveals to his loving father (Lars Mikkelsen – brother of Mads) the pivotal hand he had in the incident. It’s simply staged but packs the kind of emotional heft which is rarely seen in such films. Even the ending stays away from a melodramatic resolution, and against all odds, offers a shred of hope in its ambiguity.
Abrahamson’s What Richard Did is a truly consummate piece of filmmaking, and loses none of its power on the small screen, where it remains equally compelling and powerful. Those who missed out on seeing it during its limited theatrical run (courtesy of non-Irish distributor Artificial Eye) earlier this year are in for a real treat, as this is one of the greatest cinematic offerings of 2013 thus far.
Win a DVD copy of Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did with our latest competition. Follow this link to enter.