Swiss Army Man is arguably one of the best (and misunderstood) movies of 2016. The black comedy titled from directors’ Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as Daniels) revolved around Paul Dano’s castaway character who finds a dead body (played by Daniel Radcliffe in what is, again, arguably his best performance) and uses it to get off the island. The movie is a splice of magical realism that balanced the downright bizarre with an absolute emotional journey, Swiss Army Man was a tender and hilarious film that most need to see.
I’m saying this because the minute Scheinert’s name appeared on the screen for The Death of Dick Long, I knew it was going to be an absolute fucked-up ride with emotional beats throughout.
Part sick comedy, part mystery, and part family drama, The Death of Dick Long revolves around three friends, Zeke, Earl, and the titular Dick who are in a band together. After practise, they decide to kick their drinking up a notch and things get a little weird. Starring Michael Abbott Jr, Virigina Newcomb, and Andre Hyland,
The Death of Dick Long is a ultimately about two dopey men who have fucked up massively and continue to do so as they try to cover their tracks. The pair are a naïve and bumbling duo who come across as teenagers stuck in men’s bodies. There’s a scene where the flippant Earl has to lie to Dick’s suffering wife. The scene is treated as though Earl is a child who avoids eye contact because he knows he has messed up and it’s great to watch Andre Hyland play with this adolescent filming. It’s even set at a school! Their absolute travesty in shirking responsibility and their crimes make for a compelling watch.
What pulls Dick Long out of the ham-fisted slapstick territory is Scheinert’s ability to flesh these characters out, namely Zeke. Played greatly by Michael Abbot Jr, Zeke’s journey here is a complex one and yet surprisingly a tragic one too. The film may be about that moment allude to in the title but it’s also about Zeke accepting that parts of himself are just…fucked up. As he tries to hide it from his family – getting into all sorts of hi-jinks along the way. Not the most likeable of heroes, but certainly one that you empathise with most, Abbott is terrific alongside Scheinert’s confident direction.
The Death of Dick Long is picturesque too which does wonders in juxtaposing the tone. As mentioned before, this could easily have become silly. Yet linger shots that allow the actors to open up, the back-streets of small town Alabama, and reflections across a quiet lack leave inedible impressions.
With shades of The Coen Brothers, The Death of Dick Long is a reverent film that subverts its own twist. By piecing together beautiful cinematography and incredible performances from Michael Abbott Jr, Newcomb, and Andre Hyland, Scheinert’s film burns with an almost poetic heart.
Those special “things got weird” nights have happened to the best of us and what Scheinert’s does here is humanize the weird and whilst Dick Long is a funny watch, it is also an impossibly tragic one too.
The Death of Dick Long is playing at Sundance Film Festival London 30th May to 2 June!