A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I were discussing Angelina Jolie’s film career. I was hard pressed to name one of her performances that I liked. In the end, I named MALEFICENT… but only in the first film, not the sequel. She just doesn’t do it for me. Needless to say, when I heard that she was starring in Taylor Sheridan’s (WIND RIVER) second feature in the director’s chair, I was not optimistic. Fortunately, my worst fears were dispelled.
In THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, Jolie plays Hannah Faber, an experienced smokejumper in Montana. Haunted by the memory of a deadly forest fire that took the lives of three boys, she decides – or perhaps someone decided for her – to sit this fire season out and take a position manning a ranger station. The area’s sheriff, Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal, FORD V. FERRARI; THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON; WIDOWS; BABY DRIVER; WIND RIVER; ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL; TV’s THE PUNISHER), who is also her ex-boyfriend, thinks she has a death wish, and perhaps he’s right as Hannah loves to take unnecessary risks. Meanwhile, in Florida, someone is out to kill forensic accountant Owen Casserly (Jake Weber, TV’s HOMELAND and MEDIUM) because he has incriminating information about some powerful people. When Owen realises he’s a target, he takes his pre-teen son, Connor (Finn Little), to Ethan and his wife, Allison (Medina Senghore, TV’s HAPPY!), in Montana for safety. However, hitman brothers Patrick (Nicholas Hoult, THE FAVOURITE; THE CURRENT WAR; the X-MEN franchise) and Jack Blackwell (Aidan Gillen, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY; KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD; SING STREET; TV’s GOT) get to Owen first, putting young Connor on the run where he meets Hannah. With both the assassins and a fast-moving fire quickly closing in on them, Hannah is forced to put her demons to rest to protect both the boy and herself.
In addition to directing the film, Sheridan also co-wrote the screenplay based on the 2014 novel of the same by Michael Koryta, who shares co-writing credit here. Though it bears little resemblance to the original story, Sheridan delivers a tense neo-Western thriller that audiences will certainly enjoy even if a couple of scenes stretch the limits of plausibility. I’m no fire expert but unless they’re being whipped up by strong winds, I don’t think they move at the speed of a race car driven by Lewis Hamilton. If only they had raked the forest floor, as a very stable genius once suggested about the California fires. Regardless, Jolie rises to the physical challenges Sheridan gives her and, dare I say, this might be one of her best screen performances to date. She’s not the strongest player here though, as Bernthal, Gillen and Hoult all outshine her. Even Little, who hails from Australia and is making his American film debut here, more than holds his own against these more experienced actors. The best performance, though, comes from Senghore who plays one badass survivalist! As one of my colleagues said as the lights were coming up in the cinema, it’s too bad that her character didn’t have a crossbow. I had to agree. In any case, Senghore needs to be in more movies.
While THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD doesn’t match the level of WIND RIVER or other films that Sheridan wrote the screenplays for, including SICARIO and HELL OR HIGH WATER, it is still worth the price of a ticket. THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD opened in Hong Kong’s cinemas yesterday (May 6th). It opens in the US and simultaneously drops on HBO Max on May 14th. Check it out.
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