[Minor Spoilers Ahead]
Right up until its ending, I was ready to proclaim Nadeem Soumah’s 6 Ways to Die (2015) as one of the surprise hits of the summer. Soumah crafted a mesmeric thriller that takes stylistic cues from 80s crime dramas—especially noticeable during an opening nightclub sequence shot with a stunning blue and pink color palette in defiance of ubiquitous, modern-day blues and oranges. After rotting away in a Mexican prison for twenty years, John Doe (Vinnie Jones) seeks to assassinate the man who destroyed his life so long ago: Sonny ‘Sundown’ Garcia (Michael Rene Walton), the largest drug dealer in the Northern Hemisphere. After growing up together in the slums of Juárez, Garcia betrayed John, killed his girlfriend, and framed him for her murder as a rite of passage to join the “familia” of El Jefe (Luis Fernandez-Gil), a ruthless Mexican drug baron. But John doesn’t just want Garcia dead; he wants him to suffer. So he hires six professional criminals to strip away from Garcia all of his success, all of his fame, all of his fortune, and then, once he is a completely desiccated shell, his life.
The film is roughly divided into six parts, each corresponding with one of Garcia’s “deaths.” A general pattern emerges rather quickly: first we are introduced to the specialist criminals and see their capabilities as “professionals.” John makes contact with them, gives them their mission, and provides the audience with another chunk of expository dialogue concerning his past. Admittedly, it does become obnoxious hearing John explain his identical motives over and over again to each criminal. But considering the overall brilliance of the screenplay, it is a error I am more than willing to overlook.
But in a curious creative decision, Soumah tells his story backwards, beginning with the final professional, a hitman, executing Garcia in the middle of a crowded nightclub. But instead of merely ripping off Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2002), Soumah uses the film’s reverse chronology to equally incredible effect. Plot holes and bizarre happenings in one section are explained in subsequent ones. For example, the second criminal John hires is tasked with kidnapping Garcia’s wife. As he tries to snatch her in front of a spa, an undercover agent comes out of nowhere and opens fire. Why is she there? It’s explained in a later section that she’s protecting the wife who, unbeknownst to the audience, has agreed to testify against Garcia. Why is this important? Because later—or earlier, considering the film’s chronology—John has another criminal record one of their rendezvouses and send it to El Jefe in order to “murder” his reputation.
But here’s the essential tragedy of 6 Ways to Die: it flew too close to the sun. What could have been a smartly executed revenge drama gets thrown on its side in the last two minutes with an unnecessary, cringe-worthy twist ending equal parts The Usual Suspects (1995) and Fight Club (1999). A good twist should shed light on a story, not make the audience feel confused. And, unfortunately, Soumah’s twist achieves the latter. I’m painfully tempted to give 6 Ways to Die a lower score. But to do so would discredit the rest of the film. I just wish that Soumah hadn’t tried to throw the audience one last curveball.