Lenny Abrahamson continues his exploration of contemporary Irish hardship with his third feature, What Richard Did, a disturbing, tightly-knit drama which fires off in unexpected directions, but is at all times perfectly wrought, at once delivering white-knuckle suspense and searing emotional resonance. Our first sight in the film is of Richard (Jack Reynor) and his mates, who are at the tail-end of their summer holidays, and fancifully enjoying life. The authentic dialogue, as the guys dick around telling stories doesn't merely get points for realism; it's also bracingly funny, too. The naturalism of the performances is perhaps no better realised than when we meet Richard's on-again-off-again girlfriend, Lara (Roisin Murphy); Murphy and Reynor's palpable chemistry, and their inherent, glowing appeal, makes them a fun pair to watch, even as things slowly but surely begin to get uncomfortable. The first half of Abrahamson's film clips along on the merits of just how affable Richard is; the girls have it for him and he's an eminently likable presence among the lads, so we're left wondering, what exactly did he do? It is this suspense that keeps us glued during the getting-to-know-you dialogues early on; the very title of the piece meanwhile oscillates in our mind throughout. Non-linear sound editing - nimbly fragmenting dialogue into the next scene - also helps to prevent us from getting too settled. As tension continues to build, examining the nature of the male ego in particular, this quiet dread eventually gives way to a savage and uncharacteristic act that will haunt Richard and the majority of the other characters for the film's remainder. From this moment, What Richard Did switches gears to become an intense thriller-drama of sorts, quietly suspenseful as we're reminded of the power that one instant of poor judgement can harness. Abrahamson's taut, breathless direction keeps the drama high and the characters ever in flux, as blame is constantly shifted while various members of the group attempt to assuage their guilt. Jack Reynor's central performance is a revelation, a confrontation of the self that is more internal than external, requiring him to express more with a pained countenance than through expository moral quandaries. A primal breakdown near the end of the film might under lesser circumstances feel overly affected, but given Richard's overwhelming guilt, it feels visceral and unsettlingly raw. One tell-all with his father (played splendidly by Lars Mikkelsen) late in the day, meanwhile, is utterly remarkable. It's a wrenching, rich, character-driven film about a young man haunted by a powerful force, perpetually anxiety-inducing in its second half as it surrenders the full, soul-decaying measure of guilt's power; the ending, needless to say, is a nail-biter alright. Doing the right thing is never as easy as it seems in Lenny Abrahamson's sublimely acted and almost unbearably tense drama. What Richard Did is released in UK cinemas January 11th, 2013.
Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.