Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021) Movie Review
Action / Thriller
In the film "Those Who Wish Me Dead," Angelina Jolie stars as Hannah Faber, a hard-drinking and hard-living smoke jumper. Smoke jumping is a job that attracts a certain type of person, and Hannah, by the looks of her when we first meet her, is that kind of person. She's a daredevil firefighter who drops off helicopters into the middle of burning forests, with a reputation for being crazier than the rest of them. After a catastrophic failure of judgment during a fire that resulted in the deaths of a couple of kids, Hannah has been rattled by PTSD and demoted to one of the fire towers in the middle of the forest. Her job is to monitor the weather and keep a lookout. But Hannah wants back in the action and an opportunity arises for her to prove herself.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" gives us the bare bones of Hannah's "issues." But the film leaps around so much, working to incorporate multiple narratives, including a massive forest fire, and tossing it all together inhibits the kind of emotions a film like "Those Who Wish Me Dead" requires. The movie feels like a throwback to the disaster films of the 1970s, like "The Poseidon Adventure" or "Towering Inferno," where character development is cursory at best since the main game is the disaster unfolding around the characters.
The inciting event of "Those Who Wish Me Dead" takes place far away from the forest in question. A forensic accountant named Owen flees Florida with his young son Connor when he realizes that "bad guys" want to kill him for uncovering shady political finances in his work for the District Attorney. Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult play the clean-cut murderers, a more cold-blooded duo than this pair can barely be imagined. They are as relentless and inhuman a force as the forest fire they start deliberately for reasons which are unclear to the extreme. They figure out (somehow) that Owen is probably headed to the wilds of Montana to hide out with his brother-in-law, and they follow in hot pursuit. During the breakneck journey, young Connor ends up in the middle of the Montana woods, scared and alone, desperate to find help. He does when he comes across Hannah, isolated in the fire tower in the middle of nowhere.
The relationship that develops between Hannah and the child has a lot of potential. She thinks she might have a chance at redemption, and Connor is around the age of the boys who died in the fire. However, the film is very busy leaping around to other events and other characters, like Owen's brother-in-law Ethan and Ethan's pregnant wife Allison, wondering why Owen and Connor haven't shown up. Ethan and Allison are a fascinating pair, and their dynamic is so intriguing it rivals what's going on with Hannah and Connor out in the forest. They could carry their own movie, these two. Allison "runs a survival school," but that information comes in a throwaway line—so quick you might miss it. It's important information, which will come in handy later. More should have been made of this.
Despite the lack of character development, the film does offer several effective action sequences, the best showing the terrifying way that fires actually run and pick up speed, particularly on slopes of land, sending Hannah and Connor running for their lives. More could be made of Hannah’s competence at her job, and more could be made of the smoke jumpers’ special capabilities and skills for audience members who aren’t aware of it.
The film doesn't explore the characters and their dynamics enough to create a truly engaging story. The villains are one-dimensional and their motivations are never fully explained, leaving them feeling like caricatures rather than fully realized characters. Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult give it their all, but the script doesn't give them much to work with.
The film's action sequences are well-executed and thrilling, particularly the scenes involving the forest fire. The cinematography is also impressive, capturing the beauty and danger of the Montana wilderness. However, the film's pacing is uneven, and it feels like it's trying to cram too many plot threads into its two-hour runtime.
Overall, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" is a decent thriller that's elevated by its strong cast and impressive action sequences. However, it doesn't quite live up to its potential, and its scattered narrative prevents it from being truly gripping. Fans of Angelina Jolie or Taylor Sheridan's previous work may find it worth a watch, but those looking for a truly great thriller may be left wanting more.
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