REVIEW: ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Is A Solid, If Underdeveloped Thriller

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Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a neo-Western thriller directed and co-written by Taylor Sheridan, based on the novel of the same name by Michael Koryta. Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a smokejumper haunted by a conflagration that claimed the lives of three teenagers, which she blames herself for. Soon Hannah’s path crosses with a young boy named Connor (Finn Little), whose father is killed after gathering incriminating evidence on a mine boss. Together, Hannah and Connor race to stay one step ahead of a pair of assassins (Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) and the elements themselves, including a massive storm and a raging forest fire.

Sheridan is best known for his neo-Western work, which includes films like Sicario and Yellowstone-which is set to receive an expansion via Paramount+. With Those Who Wish Me Dead, he continues to lean into those tropes and subvert a few of them. Instead of following a law enforcement officer, the film is told from the perspective of a firefighter. The majority of the action is set in Montana-home of massive mountain ranges and lush green forests, which Sheridan and cinematographer Ben Richardson capture in long sweeping shots. And befitting every Western, there is a protagonist tormented by past events who finds salvation in protecting others.

That last role falls to Jolie, who brings all of her trademark intensity to the role of Hannah. Hannah is suffering from PTSD, which is represented by flashbacks of the teenagers she couldn’t save and her reckless death-defying behavior.  Yet once Hannah meets Connor, she starts to warm up to the kid, and he does to her; the rapport between Jolie and Little is a high point of the film, especially when he wants to know more about girls, and she teaches him the proper way to make a campfire in response. The “hardened loner taking care of a child” is a well-worn trope at this point, but both actors are more than capable of injecting fresh life into it.

The supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at either. Both Gillen and Hoult are fairly menacing, carrying out their mission with cold, machine-like efficiency. A bonus is that they complain about the location they’re in, making it feel like they’re two men working a regular 9 to 5 rather than a pair of skilled assassins. Jon Berenthal turns in an always dependable performance as the local sheriff Ethan to boot, but the real breakout performance comes from his wife Allison, played by Medina Senghore. Senghore steals the show in the latter half of the film, as she is able to hold her own against the assassins when they come to her house. The fact that a Black woman plays a major part in the action sequences and is given an immense amount of agency is a wonderful thing to see, and I hope Senghore is approached for more projects.

In addition to the assassins, Hannah has to deal with both a raging forest fire and an electrical storm, the latter of which is started by Gillen’s assassin. Taylor makes the elements feel like living things throughout the film. Bolts of lightning strike the earth with the wrath of an angry god, and flames consume everything in their path with the ruthless efficiency of a predator. If it weren’t for the neo-Western elements, Those Who Wish Me Dead would be a solid disaster film.

The film’s sole fault lies in its screenplay, which Sheridan penned with Koryta and Charles Levitt. It’s never clear what Connor’s father uncovers or who exactly Tyler Perry’s character is. Yes, folks, Tyler Perry is the bad guy in this film, and it’s a deeply weird sentence to type. Similarly, I wish the film was tipped more in Hannah and Connor’s favor than having to share equal weight with the assassins, who are best as coldly efficient hitmen. Or if they were going to play a big role, a connection could be drawn between their relationship and Hannah and Connor’s. The film shares a similarity with Without Remorse, proving my theory that Sheridan works best when writing independently rather than with partners.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a solid if underdeveloped thriller, bolstered by a great performance from Angelina Jolie and featuring many of the hallmarks of Taylor Sheridan’s oeuvre. Even if it’s a bit sparse in character and plot development, it has plenty of action and suspense to keep audiences’ attention. I highly recommend it to Western fans or those familiar with Sheridan’s previous film and television projects.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is playing in theaters and will be available to stream on HBO Max until June 13.

 

 


Those Who Wish Me Dead
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a solid if underdeveloped thriller, bolstered by a great performance from Angelina Jolie and featuring many of the hallmarks of Taylor Sheridan’s oeuvre. Even if it’s a bit sparse in character and plot development, it has plenty of action and suspense to keep audiences’ attention. I highly recommend it to Western fans or those familiar with Sheridan’s previous film and television projects.