Irish director Lenny Abrahamson delivers a haunting slice of bourgeois social realism in this his fascinating third feature.
Lenny Abrahamson’s two previous directorial efforts could be framed as a kind of Dickensian, 'Tale Of Two Cities'-style exploration of contemporary Dublin. Running inverse to Ireland’s recent political and economic trajectory, Abrahamson’s films jump between Dublin’s social poles.
In the boom years, he made Adam & Paul, a film about two junkies meandering through the city and looking for a fix. It’s an oddly twee slapstick comedy about the capital’s drug-addled underclass, those that the tiger had left behind.
In What Richard Did, Abrahamson’s latest film, he settles into the achingly middle-class world of South Dublin, and as Ireland teeters on the brink of economic collapse, tells the story of a group of rich kids for whom this wider context is irrelevant. Only their drunken games and nights out at the pub seem to matter, that is until the inevitable happens and their blinkered complacency results in tragedy. Is this a frighteningly banal parable of our times? Richard, played with maturity beyond his years by newcomer Jack Reynor is a popular, wealthy 18 year old.
For the first third of the film we follow him as he hosts parties at his parents’ beach house, meets up with friends and courts a beautiful young girl away from a member of his rugby team. Abrahamson’s pacing is slow, measured, verging on contrived. The camera sits on Richard’s face for extended lengths of time, forcing the idea upon us that he is thoughtful, that these encounters are all superfluous to him.
There’s a sinister sense of nothingness whichs hangs over this inert first half of the narrative, propelled only by the reassurance of a title that assures Richard will indeed do something.
When tragedy finally strikes – a boot in his rival’s head after a fraught house party – Abrahamson’s subtle political critique comes into play. Richard lies to the police and coerces his friends into protecting him. Scariest of all is how incredibly mundane it all is. There is no great act of violence, no redemption, not even a change of pace, just a blinkered gang of kids with an unflagging sense of entitlement.
Richard’s moral choices remain ambiguous – will he confess or not? Abrahamson demonstrates that these lives skim across the surface of something more sinister, something rotten at the core of society. Though he’s no clearer than that.
Loosely based on true events that were chronicled in Kevin Power’s book, 'Bad Day In Blackrock', Abrahamson’s film is an oppressive, thoughtful, if occasionally tiring investigation into a new brand of contemporary nihilism.
More Adam & Paul-style high jinx?
Frustratingly slow and self-assured. But thoughtful and detailed, too.
It grows on you, afterwards, but is perhaps an acquired taste.