Those Who Wish Me Dead
Just two weeks ago, in my review of Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, I referenced the previous work of a lot of those involved, saying that they were all capable of much better. Specifically, I mentioned cowriter Taylor Sheridan, praising the job he did with stuff like Wind River and looking forward to his next movie, which I expected to be a big step up. Well, now that I have seen Those Who Wish Me Dead (currently streaming on HBO Max), I can say it is an improvement over Without Remorse, but not by enough to avoid being a disappointment.
Directed/co-written by Sheridan (along with Michael Koryta (the author of the 2014 novel this is based on) and Charles Leavitt), this is an action/thriller with dull setup, thin characters and generally unengaging action. At no point did I feel any suspense about what was going to happen next. Its greatest asset, and the only part of it that is consistently enjoyable, is its star. Angelina Jolie, as a smokejumper struggling to recover from a recent trauma who helps a young boy fleeing from a pair of hitmen, brings an energy the rest of this production is sorely lacking. Everything here is paint-by-numbers; the screenplay, direction and other performances feel so routine. There is little in the way of creativity or passion. However, Jolie is good enough to carry the movie. I wish she had been allowed to.
Jolie is Hannah, who blames herself for the death of three boys one year earlier. Meanwhile, two hitmen are hunting a forensic accountant, who has incriminating evidence on a powerful individual, and his young son. Ordered to run and find someone he trusts, the boy escapes into the wilderness, where he stumbles across Hannah. Now she must protect him from armed killers, a lightning storm and a raging forest fire.
Just writing this out, it sounds like a perfectly fine thriller. You have a resourceful, damaged, hero protecting a defenseless innocent from two massive threats. It is both an action movie and a disaster movie, with a redemption arc layered on top of them. The problem isn’t that the setup is slow. It is that there are two different stories here and the setup mostly focuses on the less interesting one. There is a lot of time spent on the killers (played by Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, good actors with too little to play). I don’t know if this is accurate, but it certainly felt like they get at least as much screen-time as Jolie, even though they have no character arcs and do nothing besides calmly talk about the job. Those Who Wish Me Dead grinds to a halt when Jolie isn’t on screen (which is the case for most of the first half).
It occasionally threatens to come alive when it allows her to play the role. Though Hannah is no one we haven’t seen before in this kind of plot, Jolie invests her all in it, bringing wit and determination. This is only her fifth live-action part in the last decade, but she is able to display the effortless charisma that made her a star in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or Salt. She has some moments with the boy or with the sheriff/ex-boyfriend who still cares for her (a wasted Jon Bernthal) that come off as potentially interesting scenes that very little effort was put into. Yet the way Jolie looks at her scene partner speaks volumes about how Hannah feels toward that person. Despite her not getting the opportunity to actually develop Hannah, I engaged with her story. That is how good Angelina Jolie is.
Sadly, this doesn’t live up to her. I continue to believe Taylor Sheridan is skilled at what he does. Between the Sicarios, Hell or High Water, Wind River and the tv show Yellowstone, he has built up enough good will with me to survive Without Remorse and Those Who Wish Me Dead. Though I suggest you watch those other things instead of these two movies, fans of the star may want to check this out anyway. It is a reminder of what a talent she is, even in a lesser project.
2½ out of 5
Angelina Jolie as Hannah
Aidan Gillen as Jack
Nicholas Hoult as Patrick
Finn Little as Connor
Jon Bernthal as Ethan
Medina Senghore as Allison
Jake Weber as Owen
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Screenplay by Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt and Taylor Sheridan