Those Who Wish Me Dead Review: A well-acted, atmosphere thriller with Jolie strongly leading the charge
The newest film from Yellowstone and Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, Those Who Wish Me Dead, is a grisly slow-burn thriller with great performances, but thin characters.
Sheridan heads back into a Montana setting for a cat and mouse thriller surrounding two assassins hunting down a teenage murder witness. After seeing his father be murdered for his involvement in uncovering criminal financial activity, a young teenage boy named Connor (Finn Little) is forced to trust the help of a smokejumper named Hannah (Angelina Jolie), who has been stuck with Firewatch duty after a traumatic incident, to survive the night.
The thick Montana wilderness is a great setting for a bare-knuckled thriller like this with how isolated it is and how darkness covers the forest. The only visible landmark that can be seen for miles is the Firewatch towers slightly rising above the trees and there’s pretty much nowhere to hide when a bad rainstorm suddenly appears or when the forest is consumed by flames. It’s a beautiful looking setting that works as slow-burning playground for Sheridan to play around with in the final act. It’s also a setting that works well with the mostly blue-collar atmosphere and helps flex some of the characters’ survival skills.
Smokejumpers typically aren’t portrayed as often as law enforcement or traditional firefighters and its great that this film showcases the emotional toll of their profession. Whether they’re jumping into an already ash covered forest or right in the middle of a sweltering forest fire, they’re really putting their lives on the line. As they try to understand wind patterns and assess the fire’s movement, they can find themselves quickly consumed and lose teammates or civilians in seconds. This horror is exactly what haunts Hannah as she lost civilians in a major forest fire that made her fail a psych evaluation and slightly suicidal. Sheridan does a great job establishing the dangers and trauma anyone in this line of work can face and creates this good emotional connection to Hannah and also gives her survival skills a good backbone. Honestly, the way the film establishes the survival skills of the locals versus that of the two assassins is really interesting and works well in creating less predictable action scenes.
The great establishment of Hannah’s tragic trauma and survival skills also works in giving Jolie a lot of good material to work with. It’s awesome that Jolie has been having a bit of a resurgence lately and her performance here is a good balance of her talents. She brings out the emotional trauma and athletic survival skill set of Hannah while being able to deliver some charming dialogue. The entire cast is actually pretty strong with everyone having memorable aspects to their performances and Little giving a very strong, emotional performance. It’s a well-acted film across the board, but the acting definitely outweighs the writing.
Outside of Hannah’s trauma and Connor being alone after losing his father, there isn’t a whole lot to emotionally connect you to these characters. They’re all super thin in terms of who they are and the roles that they play. The more I think about it, there’s no real reason for Ethan (Jon Bernthal) to be a part of this story since he only has a loose connection to Hannah and only acts as a connector for the assassins to find Connor. Even the assassins themselves are super bland and although Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult deliver perfectly calculated performances, their characters are nothing more than cruel hired guns. Their mission isn’t all that special outside of erasing Connor and their personalities are steeped in a dark, uncaring attitude that isn’t all that remarkable.
The biggest problem with Those Who Wish Me Dead is that it’s pacing is incredibly slow. The characters make memorable impressions when they’re introduced, but generally don’t have the depth to keep you invested and with their being very little action until its big finale, the film’s slow-burn thrills can make it a bit of a bore. However, there are a few moments here and there that do get you back into the action and builds towards a fiery finale that’s worth the wait. The entire third act is super thrilling with it featuring a big final battle surrounded by ever-growing flames and a surprising reload war that catches you off guard. It definitely takes its time getting to its strongest parts, but Those Who Wish Me Dead offers a grand enough finale to make its wait worth it.
Even for its character writing and pacing flaws, Sheridan is still able to make Those Who Wish Me Dead a well-acted, atmospheric thriller that features Jolie strongly leading the charge and some memorable finale action. It may not deliver the biggest thrills that make it worth rushing back to theaters for, but it definitely has enough to it worth checking out if you have HBO Max.