The calm, composed quality about Malcolm Campbell’s screenplay, is that it casts no immediate judgement on something committed by Richard Karlsen. Ambiguous film title is succinct, yet enough because it raises three simple questions, each substantially more important than the other as the plot unfolds and your curiosity piques — who is Richard, what exactly did he do and why did he do it.
Jack Reynor is lead character in this loose adaptation of a novel by Kevin Powell, Bad Day in Blackrock. Meet Richard, epitome of born winners in post-Tiger Dublin. Privileged millennial soaking in the comforts of upper-middle class. Pre-university, popular but somewhat elusive, likable, virile star captain of the rugby team. Alpha male among a pack of young Irish blood just like himself. They are well-heeled teenagers with bright yuppie lives ahead of them, and this summer, Richard spends it like any teenager would: attending parties and keeping his boys out of trouble.
So early on and yet, Richard lives a rewarding life full of promises. The turning point being that one day, Lara (Roisin Murphy) finally meets his gaze of male desire. Both are visibly entranced and reasonably soon, they get together. Life tastes sweeter when you’re a handsome couple but something happens one night, and it alarms Richard. He considers the gravity of this transgression with as much clarity as he could.
In this sophisticated post-genre directed by Lenny Abrahamson, a critical yet low-key scene between Richard and his father (Lars Mikkelsen, elder brother of Mads) suggests the rational imminent and unavoidable. From time to time, we observe Richard’s rage, remorse and self-reproach, before finally considering his vulnerability as a by-product of larger socioeconomic forces. I’ve heard negative feedback deploring What Richard Did for a lack of closure or resolution but more to the point, what would I have done?
An intelligent, troubling litmus test for Kantians.