Those Who Wish Me Dead Review
It might be back to basics filmmaking from Taylor Sheridan, but this fire-obsessed thriller is an engaging time in the cinema.
Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a forest firefighter in Montana, and she is still an emotional wreck after she was unable to save a trio of boys in a blaze not too long ago. Her ex-boyfriend Ethan (John Bernthal), now happily married with a kid on the way, cautions her to not do anything stupid, yet her antics land her in a remote post in a firetower. Meant to be solitudinous, it instead winds up being a tinderspark, as Connor (Finn Little) stumbles across her hideaway. On the run from a pair of hitmen (Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) who have just killed his father, Connor enlists the help of Hannah - who must put aside her own fear and self-loathing to help this boy outrun the hitmen, and the forest fire they’ve started.
Taylor Sheridan is probably best known for his work on the frontier trilogy (Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River), and here he is once again tackling the wilds of the USA. The setting for Those Who Wish Me Dead is as much a character as any of the humans in the story, with the camera lingering over long shots of the endless stretches of trees, mountains, or storms in the region. It’s a movie that is obsessed with enlightening its audience on the danger of forest fires, for better or worse, and in doing so sometimes loses track of creating a believable and compelling human battle.
After all, this is really a story made up of two fights. First, there is Hannah and Connor’s fight against the wild - trekking through the forest, coming up against lightning, and trying to survive a forest fire. Secondly, there is Hannah and Connor’s fight against the hitmen they have pursuing them. The victory of Hannah and Connor against the former comes across as a lot more believable and engaging than over the latter, with the hitmen sometimes seeming wildly overpowered, and at other times feeling like the villains from Home Alone.
Then there’s Ethan and his wife, Allison (Medina Senghore). Their prepper background lends itself to some really engaging action set pieces with the two hitmen, and they turn into a real surprise highlight of the film - particularly some of Allison’s battles with the duo.
The script, while not nearly as tight as some of Sheridan’s other work, still has his pleasingly minimalist conversationalism that feels real-world. The performances across the board are tremendous, particularly Jolie (re-announcing herself on the global stage post a bit of a hiatus), Little (an up and comer with remarkable talent) and Bernthal (a performer of chameleonic capability). It’s just some of the CGI, and the lack of mould-breaking, that is a fire-break in the otherwise unstoppable nature of this picture.
In an age of subverting norms, superhero movies, and cinematic universes, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a good ol’ fashioned thriller anchored by performances and the immutable Montana landscape.