What Richard Did

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson returns with 'his second great feature' and the story of one young man's life destroyed by violence

What Richard Did is the third feature film by Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, and his first since the phenomenal Garage made him an international name in 2007. He has taken his time in choosing his next film, and with What Richard Did we get another insight into modern Ireland that is both universal and recognisably local.

Richard (Jack Reynor) is a successful rugby player who would seem to have the world in the palm of his hand. Whilst he continues his studies, in the long term he plans a career as a professional rugby player.

Richard is popular, surrounded by friends and people who look up to him, particularly his closest mates, Stephen and Cian (Gavin Drea and Fionn Walton). Richard begins a romance with Lara (Roisin Murphy) and looks set to enjoy a long, uncomplicated summer. Then a drunken brawl outside a house party changes his life forever.

Abrahamson imbues the film with a very real sense of sympathy for Richard, just as he did with the social outcasts in Adam & Paul and Garage. Though the middle class milieu is totally different from those of his previous two films, Abrahamson nevertheless displays the same ability to lift the lid on a particular group of people, and reveal the psychology beneath.

Richard is popular, yes, but Abrahamson and Reynor present him as an ambiguous character from the very beginning. We often see Richard staring enigmatically into the distance, or at a sunset, and such moments raise questions and doubts about his character, suggesting that there is a lot going on underneath the pretty face and hunched shoulders.

When he is alone, Richard is subdued, almost immobile, as if constrained by some deep dissatisfaction or fear. And this is before the brawl, with occurs midway through the film. However, Abrahamson is more interested in his character than he is in conventional plotting and, as a result, it is clear that there is something mildly wrong with Richard before the unfortunate incident.

This feature of What Richard Did is worth emphasising as it is emblematic of the film’s ability to suggest almost as much as it reveals, making it a film full of allusive possibilities. Indeed, the previous relationship between Richard and his eventual victim remains unclear throughout the film.

It seems that there is some kind of a past between them, but Abrahamson never bogs his story down in redundant specifics. As a result, What Richard Did is the kind of film that ought to be endlessly talked about.

Most of the actors in the film are very good indeed, and the end product has a distinct Cassavetes-feel to it, seeming semi-improvised and workshopped. Jack Reynor is fantastic, easily carrying the film with a performance that is keenly aware of both his character's dual nature, his confidence and extroversion and his less definable, darker qualities. Of the adults, Richard’s father Peter (Lars Mikkelsen) is the most interesting, a frail, sympathetic character.

The film end somewhat inconclusively, but the drama that Abrahamson wrings from the situation is utterly fascinating. The final ten minutes are remarkable for the sheer volume of ideas and nuances that are presented. Defiant, having finally made a decision that he feels is the right one, Richard and Lara spend one last bittersweet night together.

In the cold light of the morning, Richard has a change of heart and the romance of the night before is tarnished. All of this is conveyed practically without words and is a powerfully evocative depiction of indecision influenced by guilt and fear.

Beneath the surface of what is an ostensibly straightforward drama about the loss of innocence, there is a complexity to What Richard Did that defies easy answers and categories. To say too much about the film is to give too much away, so suffice it to say that What Richard Did is the second great film from Ireland’s most important living filmmaker.

What Richard Did runs in the Queen's Film Theatre until Thursday, December 20.