The Death of Dick Long Review
One half of the duo behind 'Swiss Army Man' is back with 'The Death of Dick Long.'
Release Date: September 27, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
Dick died last night, and Zeke and Earl don’t want anybody finding out how. That’s too bad though, cause news travels fast in small-town Alabama.
Director: Daniel Scheinert
Screenwriter: Billy Chew
Producers: Daniel Scheinert, Melodie Sisk, Jonathan Wang
Cast: Michael Abbott Jr. (Zeke Olsen), Andre Hyland (Earl Wyeth), Virginia Newcomb (Lydia Olsen), Sarah Baker (Officer Dudley), Janelle Cochrane (Sheriff Spenser), Jess Weixler (Jane Long), Poppy Cunningham (Cynthia Olsen), Roy Wood Jr. (Dr. Richter), Sunita Mani (Lake Travis), Christopher Campbell (Officer Mailer), Dan Scheinert (Dick Long)
Editor: Paul Rogers
Cinematographer: Ashley Connor
Production Designer: Ali Rubinfeld
Music Score: Andy Hull, Robert McDowell
A few years ago, Swiss Army Man delighted critics and baffled audiences everywhere. Well, one of the directors of that movie, Dan Scheinert, is back with another quirky movie that will also delight and baffle called The Death of Dick Long.
The Death of Dick Long is about a garage rock cover band in rural Alabama consisting of Zeke Olsen (Mud’s Michael Abbot Jr.), Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland from “Hollywood and Hyland”), and Richard “Dick” Long (played by Scheinert himself). After practice one night, the guys decide to cut loose and party, and just as the title of the movie suggests, Dick winds up dead.
Zeke and Earl drop him off at a local emergency room, and then flee. The attending physician, Dr. Richter (Roy Wood Jr. from “The Daily Show”), suspects foul play and brings in Sheriff Spenser (Jenelle Cochrane from “The Rosa Parks Story”) and Officer Dudley (A Simple Favor’s Sarah Baker) to investigate. Meanwhile, Zeke and Earl seem eager to cover up the situation with Zeke’s wife, Lydia (Virginia Newcomb from The Atoning), and Dick’s wife, Jane (Teeth’s Jess Weixler). Despite the best efforts of his friends, the circumstances of the death of Dick Long slowly come to light.
The Death of Dick Long plays out sort of like a spiritual soulmate to the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, with differing shades of “heroes” working against each other for their own gains. Zeke and Earl want to keep Dick’s cause of death a secret (and keep themselves as far away from it as possible), while the police just want to do their jobs and uncover the truth. Lydia finds herself mixed up in the middle of it all, confused about what’s right and where her loyalties lie. The movie is packed with sympathetic characters, even when they’re doing stupid things.
There’s also sort of a Tucker and Dale vs Evil vibe to the movie. Zeke and Earl are bumbling fools, and while they don’t quite have the serendipitous luck as Tucker and Dale, they are affable and pleasant, and instantly relatable. As their story starts to unravel and they get deeper and deeper into their mess, the audience can’t help but root for them.
The Death of Dick Long is frustrating, but in the best possible way. The viewer always knows more than the police, but not as much as Zeke and Earl, so there’s a limited omniscience to the narrative. The audience is never quite sure of what is real and what’s not, and every one of Zeke’s little slipups adds another piece to the ever-expanding puzzle. Once everything is revealed, the viewer questions how they didn’t see it all along. It’s both clever and obvious.
It’s also hilarious, but not in the traditional way. It’s funny in a way that makes its audience uncomfortable for laughing. Without giving too much away, some of the subject matter in The Death of Dick Long is taboo, and Scheinert approaches it in a way that doesn’t make fun of it, but doesn’t treat it seriously, either. The Death of Dick Long is as dark of a black comedy as one is bound to find.
The same crowd who liked Swiss Army Man will like The Death of Dick Long. But, because it’s not nearly as strange of a movie, it will appeal to a wider audience. And that’s good, because everyone should see it, and they should all bring their friends.
Written by documentary filmmaker Billy Chew (The Gleam), the screenplay for The Death of Dick Long is remarkable. Of course, the story plotting is brilliant, but even more ingenious is Chew’s use of character and dialogue to reveal his narrative arc. For example, during the scene where Zeke shamefully reveals to his wife how Dick died, he beats around the bush a bit and gives her a few false causes of death, saying things like “it was a gunshot…it was a slip and fall…” before getting to the actual cause. When he finally does gets there, Lydia asks “are you joking?” and the viewer is asking right along with her, just begging to know the truth. It’s a perfect moment that catches both the characters and the audience off guard. And that’s just one of many incredible instances of revelatory exposition in The Death of Dick Long.