From its title alone, The Death of Dick Long stakes its claim as an incredibly off kilter crime caper. Taking place in rural Alabama, two friends attempt to cover up a night that gets a little too weird; yet overall feels perfectly in line with the film as a whole. Directed by Daniel Scheinert, one half of the Swiss Army Man duo, this amateur crime film feels like a less chaotic and visceral Good Time. The approach taken is one that is much more light hearted and overtly comical, even if the payoff is one that’s partially disturbing and oddly brushed over.
From Papa Roach concerts and Nickelback to constant vaping, the filmmakers seem to be teasing the line between absurd and flat out parody. Yet it’s this fine line of humor that works incredibly well in the first half, partially because the audience is regularly one step ahead of the characters. While this may be a sign of shoddy writing in most crime films, it feels intentional in The Death of Dick Long. At times it even feels as if the film is poking fun at the crime genre as a whole. And what works best is that even though the characters are never as smart as they think they are, the finale is still unpredictable, mainly due to the absurdity; and even then, the absurd situation of the film is earned through its runtime.
Unfortunately, the allure of these constant revelations feel as if they fall short once the big reveal comes midway through the film. The characters that we’ve been following deeper and deeper into a forest of lies now feel stagnant, which is upsetting considering how much everything else has been built up. Still, the latter half of this film does offer some great moments, even if they’re not all fully earned. What’s most upsetting about this film isn’t that there’s anything necessarily bad about it, but rather, it simply leaves the viewer wanting more.
With this yearning however, the problem arises of messing with the pacing, which is handled very well. For a film that goes incredibly left field, it doesn’t overstay its welcome while portraying this quirky Southern town. Full of zany characters that truly come across as bumbling amateurs or officials that are simply not used to doing this much work in investigations, the film does a great job of highlighting a multitude of lives in its short runtime. This small town feels incredibly lived in even though we only see bits and pieces of it. Everything from the local bar to an elementary school, the world of The Death of Dick Long does not stop revolving when the scene shifts focus. Instead, the investigations among characters actively continues, until they culminate for a tense penultimate scene.
At one point in the film, a character utters the phrase, “I guess we didn’t totally think that one through”. This should honestly be the tagline of the film. The Death of Dick Long is reminiscent of Good Time in the sense that lies continue to pour out of our protagonists. As the story becomes more entangled among the lies, explanations begin to make less sense; and once the lies crumble upon themselves, the film quickly wraps up its loose ends. While this film is more based in reality than Swiss Army Man, that does not mean it lacks the same level of oddity as the film, albeit in a completely different manner.
A24 is releasing The Death of Dick Long in select theaters on September 27th.