Following ‘Adam and Paul’ and ‘Garage’, Irish director Lenny Abrahamson adds a little more detail to his ongoing portrait of modern Ireland with this stark, rewarding cautionary tale. Teenager Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) has it all: he’s charming, privileged, loved by his friends and family, ready to head out to university and a glittering career. But when his flirtation with Lara (Roisin Murphy) turns serious, Richard incurs the wrath of her ex, Conor (Sam Keeley). It’s not long before things turn ugly.
Filmed simply and centred around improvisation and naturalistic dialogue, ‘What Richard Did’ stands or falls on its performances. Luckily, Abramson has discovered something remarkable in 19-year-old Reynor, whose Boyzone blue eyes mask true acting chops. Grabbing hold of a very tricky role, he offers a precise, beautifully modulated performance, shifting from a self-assured but always likable teen to a conflicted, cornered young man staring down the barrel of a bleak future.
At only 87 minutes, ‘What Richard Did’ feels a little slight: the ending, in particular, comes as an abrupt surprise – but maybe that’s because we’ve come to care deeply for these characters. Abrahamson has pulled off something quietly remarkable: a study of morality which never feels like a treatise, a bracingly realistic film about teenagers which never becomes patronising and a gripping melodrama which swerves sentiment. He may also have unearthed a genuine star.