Jarmusch is an arthouse director best known for underground hits like "Mystery Train," "Stranger Than Paradise," "Broken Flowers" and the recent vampire satire "Only Lovers Left Alive." Actors love working with him, and he's managed to also cast Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, Iggy Pop, teen star Selena Gomez and up-and-comer Austin Butler (who shined this summer in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood" and will next play Army veteran Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann's upcoming biopic).
That's a lot of star power for an incredibly dry and low-key comedy about how small-town cops deal with a zombie invasion. The script beats its jokes into the ground, and how funny you find the movie is 100% dependent on how much you like that kind of humor.
There's no one better than Driver to deliver a deadpan joke, and he's hilarious as the dim deputy who works for Murray's police chief. Not much happens in Centerville ("A Nice Place to Live," promises the sign on the edge of town) and Driver's Officer Ronnie Peterson has obviously had plenty of time to read up on the particulars of zombie invasions.
Driver previously worked with Jarmusch on "Paterson," a character study about a New Jersey bus driver. It focused on the small details of his life and is a celebration of working-class life. It's slow but beautiful. And it's the best performance of Driver's career to date. (You can stream it if you've got Amazon Prime.)
The former Marine is having a huge year. He was Oscar-nominated for his outstanding performance in Spike Lee's 2018 movie "BlackKklansman." Driver is again on Oscar watch lists as he stars in "The Report," an upcoming film in which his character leads an investigation into the CIA's post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. Finally, he repeats his role as Kylo Ren in this December's "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," the long-promised end to the original nine-movie Star Wars saga.
Simpson wrote and recorded the theme song for "The Dead Don't Die." It's a hard-core honky-tonk country song, and it's constantly playing in the background during the movie, either on the radio or from a bootleg CD purchased from the town's comic book shop. One of the movie's running jokes is that one of the characters mentions the song and artist every time it's heard in the movie. "Sturgill Simpson's 'The Dead Don't Die'" is most definitely the phrase heard most often in the movie. Simpson also appears briefly as a guitar-dragging zombie.
Ironically, "The Dead Don't Die" sounds like the throwback country hit that fans of his breakthrough 2014 album "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music" have long wanted to hear. Simpson won a Grammy for Best Country Album and was nominated for Best Album with the 2016 followup "A Sailor's Guide to Earth."
Simspon resumes his music career this Friday with the release of "Sound & Fury," an unapologetic rock album that leaves country music behind, possibly for good. A huge weekend profile in The New York Times suggests that Simpson became disillusioned with Nashville and unhappy with his own country material.
He served in Japan during his Navy stint and developed a love for the country's manga (comics) and anime (animated films). He completed "Sound & Fury" a couple of years ago and decided that he wanted anime films to go along with each song. Simpson enlisted top Japanese artists and sold the finished film to Netflix, where it will premiere Friday, alongside the LP's release.
Simpson is obviously both a restless soul and an ornery cuss. Will his country music fans follow him down this new path? It's a huge and daring risk, one that doesn't really have a parallel in country, rock, R&B or pop music history.
He also filmed a part in the satirical action movie "The Hunt," which was also scheduled for theatrical release this weekend before the studio freaked out about recent mass shootings and pulled the movie from release. Will we ever see "The Hunt"? It seems likely that it'll go straight to home video sometime next year, after everyone forgets the controversy.
Friday's still a big day for Sturgill with the album and Netflix film. In the meantime, fans of his earlier music should check out "The Dead Don't Die" to hear those sweet country & western sounds that made him famous.