8.5 / 10
Michael Abbott Jr. … Zeke Olsen
Directed by Daniel Scheinert
The Death of Dick Long Review
There’s a moment near the beginning of The Death of Dick Long that made me pause and wonder, “I think that was my grandma’s church?” In hindsight it wasn’t, but that moment immediately solidified the authenticity at play in the film. Directed by Daniel Scheinert (half of the team behind Swiss Army Man), The Death of Dick Long offers a contained story of dumb criminals and perplexed cops which plays out across the stage of small town Alabama.
Michael Abbott Jr. leads the Coen-esque cast as Zeke, a father and front man for a Nickelback cover band, whose late-night escapades with band members Earl (Andre Hyland) and Dick (Scheinert in a brief cameo) sets the stage for this deviant tale. Abbot and Hyland exude personality, grounding their moronic but hilarious ne’er do wells as the type it would be easy to spot on COPS, but never at the expense of the film’s setting. They’re not dumb rednecks because it’s “HILARIOUS” to laugh at dumb rednecks, they’re products of a place and characters with priorities that amount to “save my own skin at all costs.” Abbot is also flanked by Virginia Newcomb as his wife Lydia, the real anchor of the movie, who hits a home run in every arena be it humor or drama. I’d be remiss to not point out newcomer Poppy Cunningham as their young daughter Cynthia who has some of the best jokes of the movie.
On the cop side of this criminal enterprise is Sarah Baker as the tenacious and unlikely detective in Officer Dudley. Baker brings a chipper spirit to the film and a naive quality to her character that makes her police work all the more interesting and funny. Dudley is the baby cousin of yours that ended up in a job you never expected, and even though she isn’t sure she can do it, she surprises us all. Baker is flanked by Janelle Cochrane as the near blind Sheriff Spenser, a hilarious mirror to characters like Tommy Lee Jones’ Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men. We don’t bat an eye when a 60 year old man shows up as sheriff, and Cochrane’s seen-it-all attitude positions her in the same place, even if we’re not sure that she actually can see it all. The duo are less Keystone and more Fargo, hilarious but dedicated to the severity of the work.
Scheinert paints a complete picture of this place with the most minute details. Homes are filled with tiny spoon collections and have remodeled living rooms but bathrooms stuck in the 70s. Cicadas scream in the night but only when a screen door is opened more than a hair. It’s this faithful depiction of living in a place like this that immediately gives this movie familiarity and a solid foundation. No detail is left unchecked as the sweet tea flows and every accent is as rumbly and ground into gravel as they should be. The cinematography of Dick Long is also a major achievement. DP Ashley Connor uses a clear palate of colors, alternating between red and green as characters revel in their uncertainty or suddenly have a new understanding of what to do. It’s a subtle effect but one that elevates the already compelling noir-like material.
Another major achievement that Scheinert manages in the film is the balance of tone. He keeps the audience on their toes by never letting you in on where things are going, especially with the absolute gut punch reveal of the cause of Dick’s cause of death. Both the humor and the drama combine to weaponize empathy, which, combined with the authentic small town aesthetic, hit like a rattlesnake in the lawn. The film may be showing you a world you’re unfamiliar with, but the built in authenticity makes this story one that leaves the mind racing and eager for answers.
Screenwriter Billy Chew and director Daniel Scheinert have crafted one of the most unique movies of 2019 here. It’s hilarious, it’s horrifying, it’s beautiful to look at, it will always keep you guessing, and it’s populated by characters that feel like they could leap off the screen and be found in a Waffle House parking lot. You will not see another movie like The Death of Dick Long this year, or perhaps ever.