‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Review — A Harrowing Thriller
Taylor Sheridan’s second film of the past two weeks comes in the form of Those Who Wish Me Dead, an action thriller starring Angelina Jolie as Hannah, a smokejumper who must keep a young boy named Connor (Finn Little) safe from the two men who are after him in the middle of a forest fire.
Yet another theatrical/HBO Max hybrid release, this film comes to us from the writer of the critically acclaimed Sicario films, Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Most recently, he co-wrote Without Remorse, a mediocre actioner that missed the mark.
However, this film is a slight improvement over Remorse. It may not be the most formidable film Sheridan has made, but he managed to pull off a tightly written, exciting thriller that accomplishes its goals in a unique, unconventional fashion.
This film excels in the subtlety of its writing. An early scene where we are introduced to Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) and Jack Blackwell (Aidan Gillen) has the two knocking on a woman’s door and entering. The one-shot scene right after is the duo exiting, with their dialogue slowly revealing what happened inside the house.
Much of the first act sets up the tone the film is going for, which isn’t so much the adrenaline-fueled popcorn entertainment that many films go for but quieter, more grounded suspense. It has that in common with Remorse, but it works much better in this film.
Part of this may be due to Sheridan’s steady hand behind the camera as he directs the violence and action in ways that feel both exciting and simple. His locked down and handheld shots are sprinkled well throughout the film and always match what he is going for.
Furthermore, the first act sets up the characters very well. Our protagonist, Hannah, is a smokejumper who puts out wildland fires. She stands out amongst her crew as a woman and a slightly crazy one, but she also deals with PTSD after a firefighting accident.
She’s easy to get invested in as a protagonist, complete with a backstory and a personality that makes her stand out. Jolie portrays her character very well, and it’s wonderful to see her feel so natural as this person.
The other main character is Connor, the boy Hannah is protecting. Finn Little gives a performance nothing short of fantastic as this kid who no longer has a mother and finds himself on the run from the men after him. Connor spends the film grieving, and it’s wonderful to see Hannah and Connor bond.
Jon Bernthal and Medina Senghore also appear in the film as Ethan and Allison Sawyer, a couple caught in the deadly cat-and-mouse game. The film could have focused on these two, and it may have been even better, as Sheridan makes sure not to waste them, giving them a compelling purpose in the plot.
Our set of villains may not be the most memorable or developed, but their commitment, intelligence, and violence give them a terrifying presence throughout the film. Tyler Perry cameos as their leader in a scene that could have been taken out entirely, but the Blackwells are good enough as the film’s antagonistic force.
Sheridan does an excellent job of balancing out action scenes with the character moments without ever giving the film any overt setups and payoffs or character arcs. It’s not the most conventional cinematic experience, but it makes wonderful choices that make the movie even better.
While the film doesn’t have too much to boast about in terms of spectacle or its final act, it works due to the beautiful cinematography, watchable performances, and the consistent tone of dread that allows for this to be a harrowing thriller.
Grade: ★★★✬☆ [7/10, B-]
Those Who Wish Me Dead is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout