Fantastic Fest 2019: The Death of Dick Long
About midway through The Death of Dick Long, there’s a reveal that’s so shocking that I heard audible gasps ripple through my screening’s audience, plus there was a muttered “what the fuck” from the person I was sitting next to. Whether you’re a spoilerphobe or just don’t care at all, I think it’s vital to come into Dick Long as blind as possible, or at least stay clear of finding out that crucial turn. To experience that shock just as the characters are experiencing it is what makes Dick Long one hell of an experience. Director Daniel Scheinert (one half of the Swiss Army Man directing duo Daniels) maintains a serious tone during emotionally heavier moments, when things also go especially off the rails. The film takes quite a risk, asking a lot from its audience, to go places they wouldn’t want to go, but it’s because of its self-assuredness that it works so well.
There’s plenty of dancing around the darkness that lies behind the death of Dick Long in the film. Yes, Richard ‘Dick’ Long dies. After a night of partying with his two friends and bandmates, Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland), Dick suffers wounds so severe he bleeds all over Zeke’s car’s backseat as he’s driven to an ER. The two friends drop off Dick and take off, but after hearing word that their friend is dead, they panic and proceed to cover up... whatever it is they did.
What follows are Coen brothers levels of buffoonery made by dim-witted everymen characters. Zeke makes one mistake after another, accidently involving his kid daughter in the cover-up, then juggling one lie after another just to keep his involvement in Dick’s death from his wife and the local cops, including the wide-eyed newbie Officer Dudley (Sarah Baker). It’s hilarious to watch Zeke get everything completely wrong, even when, yes, there’s been a tragic death. Any listener to true crime podcasts or Netflix documentaries would have a good handle on attempting to cover up a ‘murder,’ knowing for sure what not to do, and I’m just talking the basics here. Zeke doesn’t even have the good sense to know where to put Dick’s wallet, in a moment that’s truly insane in its own right.
Earl, meanwhile, is trying to skip town but takes his sweet time doing it, packing up and ready to leave, but ends up spending time with a neighbor, Lake (Sunita Mani). All in all, it’s a comedy of errors as the inevitable happens and all is revealed about Dick and his mysterious final night.
Going back to that major turn in the film; your acceptance of what happens all depends on your own perception of ‘out there’ scenarios, but the film does a fantastic job of placing its audience and its characters where they need to be before that turn. Abbott Jr.’s performance as Zeke is compelling; he certainly plays the fool well, but once the proverbial shit hits the fan, there’s a layer of humanity that’s unearthed that’s astonishing. Virginia Newcomb, playing Zeke’s wife Lydia, helps plant the film in a real world, providing effective familial drama amidst the insanity.
The Death of Dick Long recalls Fargo, with screenwriter Billy Chew pulling from real life events and insane news stories, creating a fictional world from the roots of fact. You might have first heard it as an urban legend, or something you Googled at 1 AM, and the magic of The Death of Dick Long is that it turns a kernal of crazy into a feature length comedy crime drama. It succeeds into take you through its insanity with a deft hand, the only question is if the audience is ready for it.