“THE DEATH OF DICK LONG” from A24 is a blend of genres by director Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) that takes the viewer to rural Alabama. Written by Billy Chew it centers on a group of middle-aged friends Zeke, Earl, and Dick, normal guys who have a garage band. After a night of practice, the trio decides to get a little wild, with some alcohol and fireworks tossed into the mix. Things take a grim turn as Dick is injured (how and from what, we do not know). In a panic Zeke and Earl drop Dick off in the emergency room parking lot. But he dies in the hospital causing Zeke and Earl to clumsily attempt covering their tracks. Something that isn’t so easy to accomplish in a small-town.
Something I love about A24 is the variety of their content and the element of the unknown with each film. Daniel Scheinert in his first full-feature “Swiss Army Man” created a complete mind-trip that was fresh and inventive. So, this combination of studio and director was appealing as I went into “The Death of Dick Long.” There were elements of this story I enjoyed. However, the film overall was a bit of a letdown. Leaving me pondering why this story needed to be told in the first place. It felt a bit anti-climactic and the big ‘twist’ was understated to the point it lacked nearly all emotional impact for me.
I don’t want to spoil the turn this story takes, but to me it was lacking dramatic intensity. It wasn’t because of subject-matter that I found to be offensive. Because that wasn’t the case. Despite it being able to weave dark humor with more dramatic themes into a single story. It was just an atmosphere that I never found appealing. With clumsy characters that may have been authentic, but still failed to interest me. There wasn’t really a firm stance on who the likable characters were and what feeling I should take with the plot. I did find some appeal in that aspect at times given it was able to create a sense of unpredictability and realism. But it also hindered the film from creating a motivation in wanting to see where things will go. It wasn’t dis-interesting, yet how it progresses wasn’t very compelling to me either. The result felt like a film that lingered in the emotional grey area because it lacked intention.
The attempts at subtle humor were hit and miss. There are a couple chuckles to be found here. Some from the material itself and some from the timing of when the script is trying to be humorous. That wasn’t a major hindrance though since it isn’t aiming to be a comedy. It’s much more of a slow-burning, moody drama with elements of dark humor splashed in. But admittedly the tone did feel uneven and the door being partially open to drawing a laugh or two, undercut the more emotional themes the plot was exploring. Also, the film drops in bits and pieces of information as to what actually happened that night sparingly. Which I did appreciate I suppose as it maintained my curiosity, sort of. But it also naturally elevated my expectations to the point when I did get the ‘reveal’ so to speak it didn’t hit with impact.
The performances were the bright spot in the movie as each were able to bring a level of authenticity to their roles. No one felt like they tried too hard to sell tropes, the emotional timing was natural, and everyone felt like common people. Michael Abbott Jr. and Virginia Newcomb were excellent in their roles and brought such a strong energy to their characters, but in a very unassuming way. With Newcomb delivering a couple of emotionally tense scenes that were the lasting moments from the movie. Young Poppy Cunningham also delivered a charming performance as their daughter. She had a few scenes where her delivery was able to capture just the right amount of tension and anxiety to do a great job of building intrigue during certain story turns.
“The Death of Dick Long” isn’t a bad movie by any means. It was just lacking some intensity in my opinion. The direction was solid with the studio polish being stripped away. It creates a realistic backdrop for the story and when paired with the cast this movie does look feel like a peek inside a small group of peoples lives. It doesn’t try to embellish things and I can appreciate that. But the problem is when creating a slow-burn drama looking inside the lives of normal people. Sometimes it’s learned that normal people are often not very interesting. Which sadly turned out to be the case in this movie. But if you like movies set in these locations, that keep a grounded story, with humanized characters, then I recommend giving this one a chance.