Six strangers are brought together under what ,initially, seems to be random circumstances. Just like a dice has six sides, “DIE” is brought to us in six layers of storytelling, each layer revealing more of the characters’ histories. Directed by Dominic James, DIE immediately sets a somber tone with it’s muted color scheme and ongoing foreboding music in the background. With a screenplay from Domenico Salvaggio and story from Nick Mead, we are gifted with the story of a mysterious stranger who has brought six hopeless people together and forces them to leave their lives up to fate.
Inspired by the novel, The Dice Man, written by Luke Rhinehart, a highly controversial 1971 book that tells the story of a psychiatrist who begins making all of his life decisions based on the casting of dice. The Dice Man deals with a lot of subversive elements and was, subsequently, banned in several countries. Published in the United States with the subheader “This book will change your life”, The Dice Man tells a compelling tale of a man who leaves everything up to chance. By rolling a pair of die, his life choices are made for him; whether he likes the choices or not, he must follow through.
It is this logic that drives the plot of DIE. Jacob Odessa, played by John Pyper-Ferguson, is the eccentric who brings a drug addict, a disgraced psychiatrist, a gambling addict, a disenchanted police detective, a millionaire philanthropist and woman who has lost all hope, together in an underground location where they are all forced to roll the dice and have their fate chosen for them. As Jacob pits one stranger against another, their stories unfold more and more. Told through character flashbacks and the ongoing story of Dective Sofia Valenti, this is a compelling study of choice and consequence.
Jacob declares that ” sometimes, we are more connected to perfect strangers than we think” and this begins to prove very true as each of his victims is forced to face their fate. Will the dice allow them to be reborn, given a second chance at life, or will they be another of the “truly lost”? Only the dice can decide this.
As Jacob puts the six strangers through their trials, Detective Valenti (Caterina Murino) begins to learn the history of Jacob while trying to find one of the missing people: Mark Murdock. Played by Elias Koteas, Mark, is a police detective who has seen too many things in life. All of the ugly and gruesome things Mark has seen has led him to thoughts of suicide. It turns out that Jacob has quite a history of his own and it is these experiences that have led him to “the dice life”. It’s clear that Jacob believes he’s doing something great and life changing, despite the fact that he’s, ultimately, murdering people in extremely complex ways. Believing that ” you can’t kill people who are already dead”, Jacob has created a cult society of people who live by the dice. The idea that people would do anything that a piece of plastic with random dots on it tells them to, is quite intriguing and unnerving at the same time.
This is a slow burn of a movie, and I say this as a compliment. It is a thought provoking piece that may not initially seem as such the first time you watch it. After a second viewing, I found this story to be exceptionally original and thought provoking. I’m really very happy that it wasn’t reduced to a “torture porn” type of movie. (Yes, Eli Roth, I know you abhor this term, but you gave birth to it and it’s very easily descriptive.) If the premise of this film is intriguing to you in any way, I cannot adequately express how much I encourage you to read the novel before you watch the film. This will also allow you to truly appreciate what Domenico Salvaggio has accomplished with the material.
Either way, this is a thought provoking premise and film. I will be following up this review with an interview with Domencio Salvaggio about his experience writing this screenplay and the process of him and director, Dominic James, bringing this to the screen.