This is Your Death opens with a Bachelor-inspired television show finale where two women in wedding dresses wait to see if will get a happily ever after. When a proposal does indeed occur, the rejected woman pulls out a gun, shooting the contestants and ultimately turning the gun on herself. Show host Adam Rodgers (Josh Duhamel), lauded as a hero for stopping even more casualties from happening, is tasked by his network to appear on a talk show (hosted in a cameo appearance by an actor that brilliantly amplifies the film’s satire), where he is to portray the deceased contestant as unhinged and mentally unstable. Disgusted by what has transpired, he instead trashes his show and the state of television, urging networks to celebrate life rather than degrade it. Adam returns to his network convinced he’s going to be fired, but instead is pitched a new reality show where people kill themselves on live television.
Josh Duhamel may be underestimated by those who have only seen him in things like Safe Haven and Transformers, but Duhamel gives an exceptional, moving performance here. The nature of his role requires him to play to the balcony, and he is quite believable, even enjoyable, as a reality show host. However, his performance truly sings when he has to play it more dialed down and subtle. This is easily the best performance that Duhamel has given, and cinema will be better off if he continues to pursue more serious roles like this.
This is easily the best performance that Duhamel has given, and cinema will be better off if he continues to pursue more serious roles like this.
The screenplay, credited to Noah Pink and Kenny Yakkel, charts a truly disturbing arc for Adam that Duhamel makes feel very real. Adam starts to believe that his show is doing something beneficial and important for the culture at large, and we watch as Adam transforms into something quite disturbingly different than when we first met him.
There are two major supporting characters: Adam’s sister Karina (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Mason Washington (Giancarlo Esposito), who is working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. The ultimate fates of these characters and the ways in which they will service the story at large are obvious from the film’s opening moments, but enough time is spent fleshing them out and tying their stories into the themes of the movie that nothing about it feels forced. As a result, the film’s climax is even more powerful and emotional.
Giancarlo Esposito does a fantastic job here working as both director and actor. His energetic direction and ability to elicit incredible performances out of all his actors overcomes the fact that sometimes the script isn’t all there. Sometimes plot developments and motivations are a tad hard to swallow, but the combination of the dynamite direction and riveting performances make them easier to swallow. The scariest thing about This Is Your Death is that it feels very current, and while the movie may have an optimistic take on how things should change, one can’t help but worry if we’re already beyond redemption.
Sometimes plot developments and motivations are a tad hard to swallow, but the combination of the dynamite direction and riveting performances make them easier to swallow.
When any movie examining television and media is released, the laudatory comparisons to similar landmarks are inevitable. It happened with Nightcrawler in 2014, and it’s already happening with This Is Your Death. But while Network and The Truman Show felt like outrageous criticisms of a distant future, This Is Your Death exists in a world where the satirical futures of cinema past are now a thriving, profitable reality.
It’s a great accomplishment that This Is Your Death doesn’t feel like anything that came before it, but is instead a singular look at the current state of our culture and the way we consume entertainment. Esposito’s movie isn’t a warning to avoid; it’s an unsettling look at where we already are, an urgent warning to change course.
The scariest thing about This Is Your Death is that it feels very current, and while the movie may have an optimistic take on how things should change, one can’t help but worry if we’re already beyond redemption.