Movie Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead

Plot: After failing to prevent the death of three young campers, smokejumper Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) has reached the end of her rope. Often drunk and taking unnecessary risks, she seems to have a death wish that’s only noticed by her ex-Ethan (Jon Bernthal). Relegated to a fire lookout tower, Hannah runs across a desperate young boy named Connor (Finn Little) who is on the run from two dangerous hitman brothers Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) and Jack (Aidan Gillen). Running out of time and options and facing a horrendous forest fire, Hannah will have to utilize all her survival skills to survive the night.

Review: In the last half decade or so writer/director Taylor Sheridan has made quite a name for himself. His screenplays for Sicario, Hell Or High Water, and Wind River (the last of which was his directorial debut) were complex, engaging, and realistic, showcasing relatable and dynamic characters. Sheridan’s second directorial effort eschews depth and meaning for thrills and pyrotechnics. A tight action thriller that’s a scant 100 minutes long, Those Who Wish Me Dead is the remnant of the bygone 90s when films like this would have thrived at the box-office in the peak summertime months and starred guys like Nicholas Cage, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, and Mel Gibson.

Indeed Sheridan – who co-wrote the film with Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt – seems to embrace the whole 90s aesthetic wholeheartedly. The villains are pretty two dimensional with both Hoult and Gillen playing their dastardly roles to the hilt. Gillen comes off as the more psychotic one with him more concerned about damage control and leaving no witnesses. There is a scene with a fire poker and a pregnant woman that is particularly harrowing. Hoult manages to be the more stalwart of the two but nonetheless malicious. Hoult seems to be at his best when he is a character actor and makes the most out of what is admittedly a thinly written character.

Bernthal meanwhile plays to type as rough and tumble Sherriff Ethan, who despite his contentious past with Hannah, is still concerned with her welfare, going so far as to arrest her when she parachutes out of a truck. However, whereas typically Bernthal thrives in the anti-hero role (Punisher, The Walking Dead) this time out there is no morally ambiguity to his character. Indeed, he gets a couple of solid hero moments which was a nice change of pace. Kudos as well to Medina Senghore who plays his onscreen pregnant wife Allison. A survivalist teacher, there is more to her than meets the eye and her badassery gets to shine through in third act of the film.

One thing to note about Those Who Wish Me Dead that I loved is that it goes all in on the fire aspect. Taking place in the Montana wilderness, the forest fire (not surprisingly started by Jack and Patrick) becomes a character in and of itself. In fact, I daresay I haven’t seen fire special effects utilized this well since 1991’s Backdraft. It is a slow burn (pardon the pun) that results in a dramatic and pulse pounding finale that would have been amazing to see on the big screen. It is all balanced by an engaging if not exceptional score from Brian Tyler and some solid cinematography from Ben Richardson.

What was exceptional however, was the welcome return of Angelina Jolie. It’s probably her best performance since 2008’s Changeling and her best action role since Wanted. Jolie proves once again why she’s got the action and acting chops that’s translated into an almost thirty-year career. Jolie’s Hannah is equal parts rough and vulnerable. We see her able to hang with the boys drink for drink and bawdy story for bawdy story. However, she’s also haunted by the death of three boys in a past forest fire, one she blames herself for misreading the wind. Hannah’s redemption comes in the form of Connor, played brilliantly by the young Finn Little. Little plays Connor as desperate and haunted with his trust having to be earned by Hannah. Little and Jolie have a great little dynamic here and their relationship was the most natural, engaging, and believable part of the film.

Some may lament that Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead isn’t on par with his previous work. That is a valid criticism. Dead isn’t a social commentary on generational poverty caused by late stage capitalism like Hell Or High Water was. Nor is it a scathing indictment of the plight of indigenous young women like Wind River was. What Those Who Wish Me Dead is, is a serviceable if not stupendous action thriller that’s a throw back to yesteryear.

My rating System:

God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad

2 Straight Garbage

3 Bad

4 Sub Par

5 Average

6 Ok

7 Good

8 Very Good

9 Great

10 A Must See

Those Who Wish Me Dead rates: 7/10