Death of Dick Long, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/16/19 14:11:57
SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2019: Just enough time passed between my seeing "The Death of Dick Long" and getting around to fleshing my notes out into a full review that it took me a while moment to remember exactly what about it made it stand out among "dumb person crime" movies, and I'm not entirely sure whether that speaks well of it or not. One the one hand, it's an entertaining dark comedy even without the twist, but on the other, I've got to wonder what it says that the filmmakers couldn't get THAT image lodged in my brain. Of course, maybe it says something about me.It opens with Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbot Jr.), Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), and Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert) wrapping up a garage session - their band Pink Freud doesn't play many gigs, but that's not exactly the point of getting together to jam - before one says "let's get weird" and they proceed to get messed up on something stronger than beer. We don't see how the night ends, but the next morning begins with Dick dead, Earl ready to cut and run, and Zeke having no idea how to get all the blood out of his car's back seat before driving daughter Cynthia (Poppy Cunningham) to school. It gets worse - Cynthia's teacher (Jess Weixler) is Dick's wife, and the body that is soon brought to the attention of Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) is in rather alarming condition.
A big part of what makes this sort of movie fun - and makes the good ones work - is how they split naturally in two, with one half of the film covering how a couple of guys who aren't that bright and aren't exactly criminals by nature try to dig their way out of the mess they find themselves in while the other covers how the small-town cops try to reluctantly dig their way into it, and how a film handles that second part can make or break it - if this is dull in comparison to the hijinks, or makes the very idea of right and wrong look too foolish, or too fully turns the audience against the hapless guys they're chasing, it can be a real mess. That Janelle Cochrane and especially Sarah Baker are so good as the local constabulary thus becomes one of the best parts of the film. It's easy to map Cochrane's Sheriff Spenser as the equivalent of Frances McDormand's character in Fargo, although she's a little less casually good at her job and a little more jaded at her own position even if what's happened to this difficult-to-identify body still has her rattled. As much as she often seems like the only reasonable adult in this town, there's a bit of a weight to how people don't respect the authority of women in their fifties even if they radiate experience. She's also quite wary of "Duds" Dudley's enthusiasm, and it's understandable, but Dudley and Baker's take on her are a great complement - she's enthusiastic but not exactly a natural crime-solver, and the way she's often a half-step behind Spenser but also less intimidated by what they're getting into makes her a fun comedic foil. It also makes her very sympathetic; the viewer occasionally laughs at her but also identifies with how she's learning, and how in some ways she's not far off from the dopey guys in the other half even if her trajectory is different.
Meanwhile, that other half is good stuff, in large part because writer Billy Chew and director Daniel Scheinert get how people seek to avoid responsibility for situations much less serious than death by misadventure. Andre Hyland gets to be amusingly dumb as Earl, whose instinct to be flee is onl accidentally sensible and thwarted as much by him being too laid-back as by actual obstacles. Michael Abbott Jr. comes off somewhat more interesting and sympathetic as Zeke because he really nails the way people try to stay out of trouble - he never quite looks or sounds self-righteous about how he's the one really suffering because he has to deal with this, but there's always a little "why me?" even though Dick's the one who's dead and his trying to cover it up is creating a lot of trouble for other people. It's a universal experience (because we can all be kind of selfish) and when the movie works it's because Scheinert doesn't amplify everything; the audience identifies with the way these guys feel and how intensely but every once in a while gets reminded that what Zeke and Earl have done is much worse.
Scheinert doesn't always hit that sweet spot - he and Chew often have a little difficulty finding enough for everyone other than Zeke to do, so it's a bit hit-and-miss when checking in on or bumping into the rest of the cast - but when he does, the movie is hilarious There's a steady, unflagging roll to the whole thread with the car they used to dispose of the corpse as every tiny bit of circumstance pushes Zeke into a more difficult position that the audience can see with perfect clarity from the moment he tries to use a very porous blanket to cover up a backseat soaked with blood to how a six-year-old is not going to anticipate the appropriate fib even if she has been told not to say anything. What's perhaps especially impressive is how, in later scenes, Scheinert manages to not quite push one's perspective away from Zeke but still pushes to consider that what he's doing is really awful for everybody but himself.The twisty bit emphasizes this, I suppose, although it could be handled better; it comes across as a shock that could have been put to much better use. This does not actually hinder the film, though; it's the sort where the things that work do so for their own sake rather than because they're building to a shocking climax.
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