Before he became an Oscar-nominated director for Room, Lenny Abrahamson made What Richard Did – a complicated yet subtle story of a group of prosperous, self-confident students from Dublin whose lives are turned upside down by the drunken, impetuous actions of one fateful evening which will have life changing consequences for all of them.
The film is based on the real life case of Brian Murphy, who was beaten to death outside the Burlington Hotel in Dublin in 2000 by a group of up to 10 men. In 2004, following a high profile trial, one man, Dermot Laide was convicted of manslaughter, but this was eventually overturned on appeal. Writer Kevin Power won the Rooney Prize for Literature for his 2009 début novel Bad Day in Blackrock inspired in part by the Murphy incident. The book was subsequently adapted for film and won Abrahamason five awards at the 2013 Irish Film & Television Awards.
The most important Irish film of a generation.
The Irish Times
What Richard Did opens as a languid narative with a particiularly European sensibility as it explores the world of the young Dublin elite who exist within rugby clubs, private schools, summer houses and supportive parents. This is a Dublin before the Celtic Tiger and Abrahamson works hard to effectively capture that sense that these are young people who live in a comfortable bubble and have a comfortable future ahead of them.
At the centre of the story is Richard, played with charismatic ease by Jack Reynor, a handsome, entitled and good -natured boy who is doing well at school, is star of the rugby team and is doted on by his family. He has a large circle of friends, female admirers and access to his family’s beach house to hang out in. Slow-burning tension enters this perfect scenario, when Richard falls for Lara, the girlfriend of one of his team mates and jealousies and teenage aggression begin to surface.
A party at someone’s parent’s house is the backdrop for the type of drunken brawl that happens up and down the country nearly every weekend. Tensions are running high, Richard argues with a bouncer, fights with his girfriend, drinks too much and finally, is pushed too far. Abrahamson does not condone his protagonist, rather he shows the audience – slowly and assuredly – how fragile the life we know can be.
In What Richard Did, Abrahamson worked mainly with untrained actors and workshopped many scenes for a long time before filming and the approach pays off. The performances are incredibly natural and relaxed and all the actors seem to possess that rareified sense of invincibilty that young pople from these types of background so inately posses. The effect of this creates a film that is less like Mean Girls but more thoughtful and sobering. There is a moment of incredible violence at the heart of What Richard Did, but the film is more of an exploration of guilt and the realisation that life, even the most gilded of lives, can change in an instant.
What Richard Did is a bruising film about guilt and compassion, exploring not only the weaknesses of youth,but also the attempts of adults to keep their child away from any blame. In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Richard’s father, played by Lars Mikkleson, tries to get the truth of what happened from his son, while at the same time knowing that it is something he also doesn’t want to hear.
Lenny Abrahamson is an exciting director. His body of work shows someone who won’t be pigeon-holed, from his Beckettian tale of two Dublin junkies (Adam & Paul) to the claustrophobic, but ultimately uplifting Room, it will be interesting to see what he does next.
What Richard Did is not an easy watch, but it is intelligent and absorbing , with no easy answers. The scenario it depicts is both horrifying and fascinating and the ambiguity at the heart of the film reminds us of the original crime that inspired it and the questions that may never be answered.