Moments: What Richard Did

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Continuing our series of our favourite scenes in cinema, it’s a guilt-ridden teenager breaking down in What Richard Did.

In searching the recesses of my mind for my favourite movie scene of all time, I quickly came to the conclusion that I’d seen too many films. I found myself naming one, then another, before soon I was reeling off this and that, and others like some indecisive lunatic. So, to make things easier on myself, I decided to select my favourite scene from the year so far. Easy – for that, I looked to one of 2013’s most under-sung pictures: What Richard Did.

Set amongst a collective of affluent Dubliners, What Richard Did’s primary focus is golden boy Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor). 18, charismatic, good-looking, popular, Richard is a star rugby player heading for university, living out one more carefree summer with friends and family. His entire future promises smooth-sailing from here on out. Or at least it did, until a drunken brawl outside a house party sees him killing a fellow student.

The weight of Richard’s crime hangs over everything in the sequence at the beach house. The frame throbs with regret

After lying to the police about his involvement in the fight and successfully convincing his friends and girlfriend to do the same, Richard is banished to the family beach house by his father. Here, in solitude, the reality of what has happened finally begins to dawn on Richard. Up until now, Richard has been chillingly cool about his part in the incident, but he suddenly realises that the life and persona he’s built up over two decades could soon be gone. Even if he isn’t caught, he has the guilt to always contend with, and he might have to face it alone – already, those closest to him are turning away.

The weight of Richard’s crime hangs over everything in the sequence at the beach house. Whether our antihero’s listening to music or lackadaisically preparing food, the frame throbs with regret. Then, with dinner over, Richard tries sleeping on the couch. But his mind is restless and Richard, physically almost an adult but still quite clearly an adolescent, stands and begins to scream. He pulls his hoodie over his head and throws it to the floor. He beats his own head with his hands, before he finds himself on his knees, crying out with the distress of a small, lost boy.

what richard did breakdown

This moment lasts not 50 seconds. It’s one single shot, and nothing but one actor shrieking. But it is a masterpiece of purely emotional cinema. Sitting in the middle of a film that’s restrained, and often enigmatic where its lead character is concerned, this one moment is painfully honest. It shows the best of an heretofore unused talent tapped for his raw energy – like De Niro in Mean Streets, Jack Reynor may not ever top the explosion of his breakthrough role. This scene in particular will be one he’ll be competing with all his subsequent career (FYI: Reynor is now star of Michael Bay’s ongoing Transformers franchise).

No other scene this year has had as strange and as powerful an emotional impact on me as Richard Karlsen’s breakdown

There are other scenes I could’ve picked from What Richard Did. I could’ve chosen the scene in which Richard tells a grimly comedic anecdote about accidentally drowning a pet hamster, which is actually Reynor relaying a story from his own childhood to actress Roisin Murphy without realising the cameras are rolling. I could’ve chosen the moment where Richad tentatively confesses he’s a murderer to his tearful father. I could’ve picked the murder itself, a frighteningly believable act of sudden, uncontrollable violence.

But no other scene this year has had as strange and as powerful an emotional impact on me as Richard Karlsen’s breakdown. Strange because Reynor delivers an atavistic outpouring here that barely registers as human, powerful because his is the only appropriate reaction, a howl of irreparable despair. In this moment, Richard realises just how enormously his life is about to change, forever. He’s a self-centred, entitled young man, but he made a snap judgement that he’ll spend the rest of his life paying for, and damn if his moment of realisation isn’t heart-wrenchingly tragic.


All images: Element Pictures

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