Shifting from the dregs-of-society and working-class milieus of his first two features, “Adam & Paul” and “Garage,” Hibernian helmer Lenny Abrahamson sets his latest, “What Richard Did,” among Dublin’s posh teenagers to craft a low-key but compelling morality tale. Promising young thesp Jack Reynor particularly impresses as the title character, a handsome, affable kid who makes a fatal mistake and then grapples with guilt. Looser and more improvisational in tone than Abrahamson’s previous work, but just as elegantly shot on digital as the striking “Garage,” “Richard” will do all right as a specialist item locally.
Richard Karlsen (Reynor) — a popular kid with looks, charm, money and laidback parents — is enjoying one of those glorious summers that only happen between high-school and college, partying with his friends, enjoying his first taste of grown-up freedom, and hooking up with pretty Lara (Roisin Murphy). Shooting often at magic hour, helmer Abrahamson and lenser David Grennan capture the easy, hedonistic pleasures of gilded youth, whose lives are pretty much one long beach party that moves from permissive parental seaside home to home, interspersed with spells in the local pubs. (Unlike most American teens, Irish youngsters can start buying alcohol legally at 18, or even younger).
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The only problem is that Richard, not quite as secure as he tries to appear, is jealous of Lara’s ex-b.f. Conor (Sam Keeley), and construes every friendly gesture she makes toward Conor as a threat. At yet another party one night, an argument between Richard and Conor gets out of control, especially after Richard’s buddies Stephen (Gavin Drea) and Cian (Fionn Walton) weigh in, following their instincts to support the alpha male of their clique. In the morning, what had seemed at the time like a minor scuffle has become a full-blown tragedy, and Richard wrestles with his conscience.
Loosely adapted from Kevin Power’s novel “Bad Day in Blackrock,” the screenplay by Malcolm Campbell makes interesting zigs when auds might expect it to zag, for instance by having Richard’s father Peter (Lars Mikkelsen), concerned for his son’s future but also simply selfish in a way, opting not to do what most would think of as the right thing. The climactic scene between Peter and Richard is powerfully thesped, especially by Reynor, and Abrahamson gets credibly relaxed perfs across the board from his young ensemble.
However, in the end, the material feels a bit attenuated, like a short that’s been stretched to feature length, even if the characters are enjoyable, sympathetic enough company for the pic’s 84-minute running time. Extra subtext would have added heft, and the pic lacks the rich, Beckettian bleakness of Abrahamson’s first two features.