THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD
R, 100 mins.
2021, R, 100 mins.
Angelina Jolie as Hannah Faber / Finn Little as Connor Casserly / Aidan Gillen as Jack Blackwell / Nicholas Hoult as Patrick Blackwell / Medina Senghore as Allison Sawyer / Jon Bernthal as Ethan SawyerDirected by Taylor Sheridan / Written by Sheridan, Charles Leavitt, and Michael Koryta, based on Koryta's novel of the same name
I was utterly
floored when I discovered during my screening of THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD
that this thriller was directed by Taylor Sheridan, the same man that has
written some of the best films of recent memory in SICARIO
and HELL OR HIGH WATER on top
of penning and directing one of the most overlooked gems of the last
several years in WIND RIVER.
Those films were textbook and masterful exercises in nail biting
tension and thoughtfully intricate character development, which, at the
very least, should have translated well to this wilderness survival
thriller. Now, the main
reason why I was "floored" watching THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is
because it's thoroughly silly and conceptually mediocre. This is as
qualitatively distant from those other aforementioned Sheridan films as
one could get, and it makes for one crushingly disappointing watch.
overshadowing Sheridan's involvement was that of star Angelina Jolie, and
aside from her work in the recent MALEFICENT
films for Disney she really hasn't starred in that many high marquee
projects lately. THOSE WHO
WISH ME DEAD is considerably more low marquee and fly in under the radar
than something for the House of Mouse, of course, and it certainly is a
treat to see the pushing 50 actress still manage to carve out a sizeable
and authentic screen presence in an action heavy role here.
If anything, Jolie is one of the very few winning elements in
Sheridan's film, playing a character that's been through the psychological
ringer and still feels the nagging side effects of PTSD.
The Oscar winning actress doesn't miss too many beats portraying
this flawed and mentally tortured, but physically determined and highly
resilient hero. She manages to consistently outshine the substandard
material that she's given in Sheridan's screenplay (which he co-scripted
with Charles Leavitt and Michael Koryta, based on a book of the same name
by the latter). It's indeed
wonderful to see Jolie quarterback and lead the charge of this entire
affair, but it's a damn shame that her commendably committed performance
is not harnessed in a far better film.
Hannah Faber, a Montana firefighter that specializes in dealing with
devastating forest fires. Doing this type of highly dangerous work requires a certain
type of courageous personality type...or one that simply throws caution to
the wind when facing said dangers...and Hannah certainly fits the bill.
She has a reputation around her colleagues for being a crazy loose
cannon, which, unfortunately for her, led to a major lapse in judgment
while battling one hellish blaze that resulted in the tragic death of a
couple of kids. Her
carelessness led to her demotion and becoming a hard boozer, both of which
has led her spiraling down into self-implosion. Her latest assignment is painfully routine: She has to work
solo at a very remote outpost in the middle of nowhere to monitor the
weather and keep a lookout for potential forest fires...and that's about
it. She desperately wants to
get back into the think of things as a firefighter, but she's such damaged
goods that jumping back into that saddle becomes more difficult by the
this story is a subplot involving a "forensic accountant" named
Owen (Jake Weber), who is forced to flee his big city home with his young
son in Connor (Finn Little) when he discovers that nefarious forces want
to murder him and his family for uncovering some very shady and
politically damaging finances that he discovered while working for the DA.
While Owen and Connor escape their home, they're doggedly stalked
by a pair of hired assassins (played by Nicolas Hoult and Aiden Gillan),
who will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down their prey and
exterminate them with extreme prejudice.
They manage to track them down to the wilds of Montana, and without
given away too much little Connor ends up permanently separated from his
dad and fending for himself all alone in the woods...that is until Hannah
herself spots the vulnerable child on patrol.
One of the many
problems with THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is the whiplash effect that the
scripting has on viewers: It literally yanks us back and forth from
multiple narrative tangents and struggles to find a cohesive manner of
tying them all together with reasonable symmetry.
When the film isn't honed in on Hannah it jumps to the accountant
and the kid...and then to the killers on their tails...and then back to
Hannah...and then to other introduced characters, like Owen's
brother-in-law Ethan (Jon Berthal) and his pregnant wife in Allison (Mediana
Senghore)....and then back to Hannah...and so on and so on.
On top of this is the fact that the villainous element in this
thriller is really cookie cutter and vanilla bland.
This is not helped by the casting, half of which works.
Aiden Gillen from GAME OF THRONES is fairly credible as a hot
headed murderer with an itchy trigger finger, but his cohort in Nicolas
Hoult is rarely believable as a maniacal goon for hire.
He's simply not intimidating at all as a sociopath.
That, and the central plot that sets these madmen on the trail of
Owen and his son seems very thinly developed, outside of Owen having
knowledge that could take down powerful people...and not much else. The bad guys and their motives are so poorly delineated here
that when Tyler Perry himself shows up in a blink or you'll miss him
cameo as the hitmen's boss - and then never appears again - you're left
scratching you head in sheer puzzlement.
co-written script is built upon some really, really predictable
plot contrivances. You just
know that the smokejumper with a pure heart, but damaged psyche that once
lost kids on the job will become this on-the-run kid's protector, leading
to a preordained redemption arc. You
also just know that the brother-in-law of the hunted Owen and his wife
will cross paths with the murderous thugs while they're in pursuit (this
also leads to many violent scenes showing this pregnant woman being beaten
and battered by the protagonists, which seems more cheaply
sensationalistic than scary). Added
in is the unavoidable forest fire that's set by the villains, which
threatens the lives of all of the protagonists and countless others, which
forces Hannah to come to immediate terms with her past occupational
demons. At the very least,
the core dynamic between Hannah and Connor is well handled on an acting
level alone (young Finn Little gives and takes with his much older and
more experienced co-star to thankless levels and gives a fairly solid
performance), not to mention that the VFX to conjure up the raging forest
fire hellscape is pretty convincing.
really struck me so negatively about THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD was simply how
lacking this film is in terms of having a basic understanding of how mass
forest fires - or fires in general - work, or how these courageous people
battle these seemingly unstoppable blazes.
We rarely get insights into what goes into their profession or how
they stop these fires in the first place, and layered into this are some
unfathomably ridiculous moments involving Hannah trying to protect Connor
from the worst that nature throws at them.
She hysterically and nonsensically survives not one, but two very
close encounters with lightning strikes on the ground, which would have
sent most mortal human beings to the hospital.
My personal favorite moment of howl inducing incredulity involves
the perpetually injured Hananh and Connor outrunning the worst part of the
forest fire flames that seem to be spreading faster than any human could
run. The most intelligence
insulting occurrence in THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD shows the aftermath of this
gargantuan fire. This natural
inferno is shown as being incomprehensibly large and relentless in its
spread, but in the single morning after its birth it's completely put out
and extinguished, despite no rain and no scenes involving a mass effort by
multiple parties to get it under control.
Considering how so many out of control forest fires have been
making headlines across Canada and the U.S., this film's presentation of
them as a simplistic device to move the plot forward (and be rectified
with implausible ease) could easily offend some viewers.