Those Who Wish Me Dead, 2021.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal, Tyler Perry, Jake Weber, Tory Kittles, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, and James Jordan.
A teenage murder witness finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert tasked with protecting him — and a forest fire threatening to consume them all.
Taylor Sheridan crafts extremely grim and bleak works (Wind River) that more often than not serve a greater point. Those Who Wish Me Dead is the exception. Also co-writing, he is working alongside Charles Leavitt (who I’m now realizing has worked on disappointing projects such as the videogame adaptation of Warcraft and the abysmal Seventh Son, so I think I found part of the problem while writing this review) and author of the book Michael Koryta). It almost seems like each of them had their own individual movie in mind while penning the script.
Angelina Jolie plays Montana-based smoke jumper Hannah Faber suffering from PTSD and guilt following a misreading of the wind during a forest fire that, as a result, burned a nearby family alive. Now, Hannah masks suicidal thoughts by assimilating herself as one of the boys, so to speak, clowning around and drinking, sometimes parachuting out of a moving truck while her peers cheer her on. They don’t know or realize there’s a darker purpose behind living dangerously. When she’s not goofing off, she’s either receiving life advice from local sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal, a frequent collaborator of Taylor Sheridan) or searching for peace in solitude while on tower duty.
Elsewhere, accountant Mr. Casserly (Jake Weber) has found some highly illegal information while investigating a case for a client. It’s not necessarily a mystery as the situation is left intentionally vague (Taylor Sheridan presumably knows the strength of the movie lies within its intensity and roughshod momentum), but contract killers the Blackwells (Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen) have already murdered one half of the equation and are now gunning for him.
Those Who Wish Me Dead starts with contrivances and never really lets up. Posing as repairmen called out to fix a gas leak, the Blackwells (apparently, they are twin assassins) blow a home sky-high before driving six hours to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to finish off the job with Mr. Casserly. Naturally, he catches the news of this bombastic assassination. He is aware that he is next, grabbing his young boy Connor (Finn Little) and driving off to rendezvous with his brother-in-law Ethan for protection. Given the distance, why do the job so dirty? Better yet, why only send one team? The latter question, the characters themselves wonder, so the script is self-aware of its flimsy plotting if nothing else.
Scouring the empty home, it’s not long before the Blackwells connect the dots to where father and son are going. What ensues is some of the most ruthless, cold-blooded killers in a while, stopping at nothing to tie up loose ends. This involves shooting innocent civilians that witness anything point-blank (no one sees their faces), prepared to torture Ethan’s pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore) in a sequence that comes fairly close to pushing the violence too far, and of course, murdering a child if they have to. Worst of all, they announce they will take pleasure in doing these things.
Frustratingly, at a certain point, these twisted hitmen become shockingly incompetent for the sake of keeping the movie going. It should be no surprise that Hannah ends up having to protect Connor, and to the film’s credit, the bond they develop is well-paced and believable. Finn Little is impressive in giving an emotional performance and gradually expressing more trust to Hannah as they march through the forest to safety before the forest fire envelops them. Expectedly, Angelina Jolie is also terrific in a redemption arc that sees her facing her trauma head-on.
It goes without saying that Those Who Wish Me Dead is a rather sadistic and bleak watch. Still, the stellar direction from Taylor Sheridan and choreography of the brutality and fight scenes occasionally overcome the gaps in character logic that pile up to the size of a mountain by the ending. Those with an iron stomach will find some enjoyment here taking the film as a thriller, but it’s by far Taylor Sheridan’s worst directorial effort. Until now, his no-holds-barred and graphic approach to filmmaking has usually resulted in films carrying complex themes, whereas here, it’s just competently crafted misery that flirts with greatness.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com