Review: 'Those Who Wish Me Dead' (2021) Dir. Taylor Sheridan
Based on the 2014 thriller 'Those Who Wish Me Dead' by author and screenwriter Michael Koryta, this marks a return for Angelina Jolie as our leading lady in a film since 2019...
US smokejumper Hannah Faber (Jolie) is haunted by memories of a forest fire that took the lives of innocent children and a colleague. She now works in a remote fire lookout tower in Park County, Montana, trying to move forward and clear the demons troubling her.
Meanwhile, two contract killers, Patrick (Hoult) and Jack (Gillen) Blackwell, carry out a hit to cover up a huge conspiracy, but they accidentally leave a witness; young Connor Casserly (Little) who is forced to go on the run.
Faber soon comes across Casserly, she must protect the boy not just from the Blackwells who are hunting him, but also a raging forest fire the two killers start that threatens to consume everything in its path...
Angelina Jolie is back as a big lead star since 2010, not including her her recent fairy-tale offerings including Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Come Away, all building up her return to the mainstream cinema with the MCU and Eternals. She hasn't lost her screen presence or appeal to watch, here as a troubled firejumper in Montana haunted by a failed operation she was involved in. She may start the film as a woman with little to gain bar cheap thrills and the bottle, fighting to claw back her career, but quickly she shuns the stereotype that threatens to drown her character.
With newcomer Finn Little who is on the run as a sole witness to a contract killing, Jolie becomes the protective mother figure who has brains and beauty and more than capable of surviving out on her own. It's not just a back and forth cat-and-mouse film with the hitmen biting their heels, but more about what Jolie and Little must overcome together to get to safety. Instead of bullets, the two need courage to navigate forests in the dead of night, lightning strikes and the eventual forest fire that burns in the horizon like a hell. They are a nice couple to invest in, and Little is a great actor against Jolie to add some pathos to proceedings.
Jolie is wonderful as a fragile mother-figure who isn't perfect or invulnerable, but doesn't become washed up and selfish as we may expect due to her character's backstory.
Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen come out away from type as a couple of cold, calculating killers out to silence a potential leak that is hiding evidence to a huge conspiracy. Their rigid military ops tactics do the job, but leave a witness and so they won't stop the hunt until they find the one who can identify them and carries the evidence they need back. Two brilliant actors who create two rather brutal characters, there to serve a purpose of course with little backstory, but they are ones you can't ever predict or tear your eyes from when they are on screen.
Unlike modern fire-fighting offerings such as Only the Brave, Ladder 49 and even The Tower, the character threat and danger takes over more than any actual fire-fighting. It's well over an hour until the flames even present a threat, and this is a film more about character development and relationships over fighting fires. There's no fighting fires of the practical sort, but fighting those inside one's soul that takes presidence. Taylor Sheridan doesn't use the forest fire to take over the story, and that falls in second to everything else and lets our human stars carry the film. This is a film about survival, not about fighting.
Clocking in at just over 95minutes doesn't make this an over-long story and under the helm of Sheridan, parts of this channel the character drama and raw mature themes seen in his writing of Hell or High Water and Wind River. While not as intense or action-packed as his Sicario films, this never-the-less has that feeling of grandeur in what we see and feel; the neo-Western themes are evident in the rolling wilderness and a colour palette devoid of anything rich or excessive. It may be one of Sheridan's most atmospheric films to date.
The Montana wilderness is as much a character as our leads, with Sheridan using as much natural location as possible to add real scale to proceedings, letting Mother Nature dominate. Coupled up with Brian Tyler providing an unnerving and exciting score, this ticks all the boxes for a more mature offering that knows what message to convey in what we see and hear on screen. With the action and violence, it's not excessive but it's brutal and unforgiving, never glossed over to those caught in the chaos. It's a more mature offering from Sheridan and his team as we would expect.
It gets a bit noisy towards to the final act, but it's created with lots of atmosphere and restraint to not lost focus of what we've been building up to, and still looks hauntingly beautiful with Jolie and Little the crux of our emotional drive.
This doesn't change the genre of a thriller in what we have, but it's not in your face and overly loud and fantastical with action here, there and everywhere. It's a steady, slow burning thriller (much like the forest fire) that has a great cast and premise to let Sheridan work his mature magic.
A welcome return to form from Jolie in the capable hands of Sheridan. Less forest fire and more character fire, but that's certainly not a bad thing for 95mins with this team.
'Those Who Wish Me Dead' is a co-production between New Line Cinema, Bron Studios
Film Rites, Creative Wealth Media and Bosque Ranch Productions