The Death of Dick Long is having none of your genre.
For this film, it’s title itself inviting you to balk at this much as the opening minutes of the Director’s previous effort Swiss Army Man dared you to depart the cinema, pays no heed of the poor soul who has to describe it to the unsuspecting.
A rural Alabama dark comedy-detective drama with shades of that most crude (before you say anything no this is nothing like the Coen Brothers’ work), in borrowing motifs from the most disparate of inspirations The Death of Dick Long achieves something unusual in that in an excellent piece of misdirection it purports to change gears but never does.
Taking place following the disappearance of their eponymous best mate, Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland) know a lot more than they’re letting on to their respective partners or the local cops. If this sounds at all regular, the latent ‘twist’ (it’s really more of a revelation and it’s a great one) dramatically upends the mystery forms we’re familiar with and more than comfortably settled in to by this time and in spite of the heightened circumstances does so seamlessly and, on only the slightest reflection as to the first act, without actually shifting the narrative into different territory entire.
What could have been outrageous and nonsensical being otherwise well established by subtle groundwork in service of a reveal that is anything but subtle, the about-face, tonally blazing and uncommonly idiosyncratic to no doubt the appeal of many, will turn a lot of others off. A lot of the same crowd who would walk out of the aforementioned masterpiece, those nonetheless hoping for something akin to Swiss Army Man won’t go home so elated.
Not unenjoyable, aside the reveal and some spectacularly dark humour henceforth there are simply no significantly engaging nor greatly fleshed out characters (the two male leads being necessarily muted in their performances) to carry proceedings to the heights this film aspires. With Virginia Newcomb and Jess Weixler, two of the supporting leads, delivering the more memorable characterisations within significantly less screen-time, the outright more interesting conflicts inherent within their characters’ arcs are never nearly so explored as they could have been.
Concluding ably regardless, The Death of Dick Long is mildly entertaining stuff that does well to play so loose with our expectations.
The Death of Dick Long screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival
The Death of Dick Long on Film Fight Club