Director Taylor Sheridan
Screenplay Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan
Starring Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal
Those Who Wish Me Dead is an above average thriller (with an awful title) where women are allowed to shine without making the film look too woke for the willing suspension of disbelief. Jolie is a Hannah, described as a smoke jumper who is recovering from a traumatic event. She has somewhat of a death wish, it seems, based on the first act. As the film moves on, it just seems like she needs a time out. It’s easy to guess that this won’t happen.
Meanwhile, in Florida, a D.A. is assassinated, leading one of his forensic accountants (Weber) to flee for his life along with his son, Connor (Little). Up north, in the woods, his brother in law is Sheriff Ethan (Bernthal) and is the ex-boyfriend of Hannah. Ethan is married to Allison (Senghore) and they are expecting their first child. Something tells us this will result in most if not all of them meeting by the third act.
The assassins are brothers, Patrick and Jack Blackwell (Hoult and Gillen). They are pretty good at what they do, but they can’t be too good, or we don’t have a movie. Their communication is smooth and it adds to the feeling of concern for the well being of our protagonists. Sheridan works effectively through them to give a sense of dread right up to the point when they come across the seemingly most vulnerable of these. Then, like a switch being turned, the tension is ratcheted up a notch.
In the context of hunter and prey, the film is effective. The hunters are heartless and the prey is mostly unaware. But just because they are disadvantaged, it does not mean that they are completely helpless. No one is able to show the resourcefulness of landlocked Americans as well as Sheridan.
Where the story suffers, unfortunately, is in attempting to create a compelling side story for Jolie’s Hannah. The flashbacks are too frequent and not enough to make us feel what she feels. Ultimately, they would have been better served if Hannah’s story was relegated to one quick explanation in the second act. That would have put Jolie’s immense skill to more of a test and felt less like TV Movie of the week territory.
As the son on the run, Little is effective because he is not a genius. He’s just a scared boy. He listens to instructions and, except for one point, follows them.
The best role in the film is Senghore’s pregnant Allison. Her ability to remain calm in the worst case scenarios are the highlight of the film. The angle at which she becomes heroic is worth the price of admission.
Overall, this is a good film where the ending is never in doubt. How they get to that ending, though, contains enough surprises to be worth a watch.
(***1/2 out of *****)