Sunday 9 June 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 45. What Richard Did

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

What Richard Did
Director - Lenny Abrahamson
Country - Ireland
Year - 2012
Runtime - 89 minutes

Director Lenny Abrahamson captivated everyone with his Oscar winning film, Room, in 2015, when it launched the career of child actor Jacob Tremblay and caused countless teary eyes. Prior to the success of Room, Abrahamson created a number of smaller scale features that likewise focused on strong characters in interesting circumstances such as the hard-hitting Irish drama, What Richard Did. This exceptional gem is one of his finest earlier works with a superb central performance from Jack Reynor as Richard - that acted as a calling card for Hollywood for both Reynor and Abrahamson.

Taking his cue from the stark British realism of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, Abrahamson introduces us to Richard's world as he arranges an alcohol-fuelled weekend at a beach near his parent's holiday home. Richard's warmth and charm have helped to establish his alpha-male position in a social circle comprising his rugby team and their female friends, with Reynor portraying a likeable teenager who appears to genuinely care for those around him. Trouble arises in the form of a team-mate's attractive new girlfriend, Lara, who immediately captures Richard's attentive gaze, and this infatuation threatens to disrupt the otherwise peaceful nature of his circle of friends.

Roisin Murphy tackles the role of the vibrant love interest, Lara, with aplomb. Richard's candid and confident approach to wooing her has the desired effect as she falls for his roguish charms and faces her own difficult decisions on her next course of action. Their on screen relationship feels entirely natural and is a credit to both young actors - Abrahamson always coaxes the best out of his performers and this passion for realism enhances the impact of the storyline's events. It is almost as if we have grown up alongside these characters, particularly as we experience the light-hearted nuances of their social gatherings in the first part of the film, which conjure up memories of being a teenager without a care in the world.

It is clear from the film's intriguing title that Richard will, at some point, do something of note. However, it is not clear what this action or event may be, nor are we aware of its magnitude. Abrahamson's bold title choice builds up an expectation that we are likely to witness a scene which has a significant impact on Richard's life and he certainly delivers on this front. The subsequent fallout and reconciliation attempts Richard makes with both friends and family takes him on a cathartic and revealing journey that provides an emotionally draining hook as we witness his suffering first hand. Lars Mikkelsen takes on the role of Richard's affectionate father and they share a scene together that chills you to the core with its raw display of tangled emotions. The devastation of this encounter propels the film into a poignant and reflective third act as Richard becomes consumed by regret and this begins to cloud his judgement.

Abrahamson allows his characters to express themselves in scenes without dialogue that convey their inner feelings and tell us more than any spoken words ever could. These intimate and heartfelt sequences range from tranquil moments shared between lovers to ferocious outbursts of anger and frustration, and they all initiate a surge of emotion for the invested viewer. The camera lingers over these moments for longer than one might expect, allowing time for the reality of the situation to sink in; as if enraptured by the blissful or haunting imagery it captures.

The stunning Irish coastline acts as an enchanting backdrop to the proceedings, with the glistening flow of the tide lapping at the shore line like the swell of thoughts that plague Richard's mind in his darkest hours. Reynor bares his soul as Richard with a powerhouse performance that carries the weight of the film even when its momentum falters slightly in the sombre final third. This is a character you instantly connect with thanks to Reynor's bravura acting, as he demonstrates a dedication to his craft that is befitting of Malcolm Campbell's brooding screenplay, which has been loosely adapted from the novel by Kevin Power.  

Those with a penchant for involving (and surprisingly dark) character-driven dramas are likely to adore What Richard Did. It is by no means an easy watch but its provocative subject matter is handled in an eloquent and enthralling fashion even if it ultimately leaves you shell-shocked. Abrahamson's ability to create a beguiling spectacle from plunging his characters headfirst into unsettling scenarios and the sublime performances from his cast combine to make this a real Irish treasure that should not be missed. If you want to find out exactly What Richard Did (who doesn't?) then I suggest you tackle this searing drama head on for what will inevitably be an unforgettable encounter with an overlooked cinematic gem.

If you take the time to watch What Richard Did then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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