(Leonard Abrahamson, 2012)
What Richard Did establishes its world effortlessly in its first scene. Three teenagers drive through the more affluent suburbs of Dublin's Southside - the streets are wide and tree-lined, the houses big Georgian red-bricks - and cockily, affectionately chat teenaged rubbish at one another. They stop at a supermarket to stock up for a party and on the way out they mock the working class accents of the women working on the tills, the first sign that their privileged lifestyles might have some negative effects on their attitudes and personalities. Then we get to know them better. The leader is Richard (Jack Reynor), who is every smug alpha male rugby-boy I met in University in Dublin rolled into one, only more so. Because Richard is perfect; good-looking, popular, protective of younger acquaintances, friendly and funny, the Captain of the rugby team, great to his parents ("My beautiful boy" his Dad (Lars Mikkelsen, who has one genuinely devastating scene) casually calls him), effortlessly charming and at ease in every conceivable situation, he moves like a King through his social group, making introductions and resolving disputes. He wears his entitlement lightly, with absolute confidence and self-assurance
We see him fall in love with Lara (Róisín Murphy), girlfriend of teammate Conor (Sam Keeley), and the fallout from all this leads to a violent confrontation at a house party one night , where somebody dies. The rest of the film sticks closely to Richard as he deals with guilt and fear and denial and his world and all its comfortable certainties basically evaporates around him.
Abrahamson has shown his sensitivity and subtlety in his previous films but here he reaches a new level; What Richard Did is beautifully concise and understated throughout. The teenaged relationships showcase the usual bawdy humour and amiable camaraderie but there is also a healthy dose of ennui here, young people whiling away hours with not much they really need to do.
And so they drink and sleep together and obsess over their relationships, and in its depiction of their rituals and social habits, the film absolutely nails a specific set of bourgeois youth from the Dublin 4 postcode (Richard makes a joke about "D4 teenagers binge-drinking" at one point).
There is great subtlety here, too, in the fact that Conor has a bit more of the country about him (his parents have thick rural accents) than his upper middle-class teammates, and celebrates his birthday in a GAA club, establishing him as something of an outsider from the off. And truth, in the many wordless scenes between the young lovers, sitting and lying together before jealousy and a hint of irritated boredom inevitably enter the picture.
Abrahamson is a minimalist, his style never overbearing, shots that opt for ostentatious beauty notably rare. The film is mostly shot in a flat, realist, almost Scandinavian light, and the main arthouse cliche it fulfils is its alternately twinkly and ominous score. It is engrossing throughout and provocatively haunting; its ambiguous ending has stayed with me to a surprising extent.
The performances are fantastic; Reynor is a magnetic centre, his face filling the screen for a good portion of the running time, and we can read every thought and feeling there. The largely teenaged cast of friends and acquaintances acquit themselves just as well.
On top of all this, it works nicely as an allegory of the moral decay apparent in Ireland during and after the boom; a country unsure of what to do with its prosperity and ultimately choosing to turn a blind eye to its more unsavoury aspects. But this theme, while never subtle, can be disregarded if one chooses to do so. What Richard Did works equally well with or without it.