Sometimes, the title of a film says everything about the story. A title like “The Death of Dick Long” says, to me at least, that we’re in for a rambunctious time of debauchery as dark secrets are exposed.
In the case of “The Death of Dick Long,” director Daniel Scheinert is the story of a trio of friends who have a fun evening full of drugs and beer. The trio includes Ezekiel “Zeke” Olsen, played by Michael Abbot Jr and Andre Hyland as Earl Wyeth and together they form a cover band with high hopes of being able to perform in front of a crowd someday.
For now, the trio play for themselves and their friends, while they continue to have fun.
Now, comes the crux of the film – you remember that evening full of drugs and beer that I mentioned? Well, it results in the death of Dick Long (Scheinert), though at the beginning of the film, we are not aware of exactly what killed him, beyond his friends just dumping him off at the emergency room, scared over something. What that something is, we discover throughout a film that is akin to “Swiss Army Man” and amongst the likes of “Fargo.”
Billy Chew’s screenplay with Scheinert’s tight direction, we see the story unravel throughout the day as Zeke tries to hide every piece of incriminating evidence that could connect him to Dick’s death.
Since these geniuses dumped their friend at the emergency room, they attracted the police. Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) who is smarter than a pistol is towards the end of her career when this case gets dropped into her lap. She is tough as nails and is just intoxicated enough to know the difference, but she needs help so she engages a younger officer, Dudley (Sarah Baker). The sheriff reminds young Officer Dudley not to expect much out of this, her first case – “Now, I’m not assigning you this case to break it wide open. I need help with reports and questioning,”
Chew’s screenplay is smart for the type of dark comedy story it is trying to tell because it successfully intertwines the dramatic results. That’s one of the reasons why “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” worked for me, something that I think this film is patterned after. It’s a solid look at our desires, our need to still be secretive and what happens when those secrets are unloosed.
The characters that inhabit this story are just as funny as the outcome. Earl might seem like a guy who’s as dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks-type guy, but he is also by far the most introspective person in this farce. As Zeke’s wife Lydia, Virginia Newcomb is oblivious to most of what’s going on, but she is wise to her husband. Their scenes in the second half of the film are as tense as I’ve seen; it’s a nice break from Zeke’s antics and reinforces the lack of trust between the two.
Officer Dudley reminds me of Marge Gunderson and her journey to discover an answer to a grisly murder; she is just going about her daily routine and, well you have to see the movie to see how she interacts with Zeke. I called out Officer Dudley specifically also for the openness, she displays in her relationship with another woman and the fact that she’s really looking forward to a quiche.
These are the small, little details that “The Death of Dick Long” gets right.
But, even in a dark comedy with drama, there is also heart and the beating heart is that of Poppy Cunningham as Cynthia, Zeke and Lydia’s daughter. There is genuine care for her in Zeke’s eyes and there is the devil of protection in Lydia’s, but it is Cynthia’s innocence, keeping the story as tight as a night of debauchery leading to tragedy and a comedy of errors that results in the end of the film.
Some might find the details of “The Death of Dick Long” to be a bit too much. For me, the heart and soul of this film is in the characters and they drive the story right past those details that some might find more hard to overcome or overlook.
Then again, the title of the film says it all.