Cast: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jake Weber. Directed by Taylor Sheridan.
There was a time, from 2000 until 2010, where Angelina Jolie was a box office titan. She was the woman to headline action films and prestige movies alike; essentially she was the female Tom Cruise. Despite two Maleficent movies, a few voice spots and a small drama, Jolie has spent the past decade directing with dramas such as In the Land of Blood and Honey, Unbroken, First They Killed My Father and By the Sea (which she also starred in), as well as hefty duties being a respected humanitarian. Those Who Wish Me Dead reminds us why she ruled the multiplex all those years ago.
Following a traumatic forest fire that ended in tragedy, smokejumper Hannah finds herself thrust into action when a young boy crosses her path, pursued by two ruthless hitmen, and a raging forest fire that shows no signs of slowing.
Taylor Sheridan has set about carving a career as a writer and now director, making the sort of character-based action thrillers that used to get made in the 90s. His interest in the Western genre is perhaps best displayed in TV series Yellowstone, but also brought into the modern context with previous screenplays Sicario, Hell or High Water, Sicario 2: Soldado and Wind River (which he also directed).
While it’s not hard to imagine Those Who Wish Me Dead being made in the mid-90s with Harrison Ford in the leading role, Jolie as Hannah dominates the screen. Her rapport with newcomer Finn Little as Connor is fantastic and provides the emotional core of the film. When the film focuses on her and him, it soars.
Sheridan however gives a little too much screen time to Jon Bernthal as a deputy sheriff, his wife and the two hitmen — Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult. While they’re all good — Medina Senghore as Bernthal’s survivalist wife is a highlight — they dilute the great chemistry between Jolie and Little, and the implausibility of those plots shines through when they’re on screen.
Even with that said, Sheridan and his cinematographer Ben Richardson frame the growing forest fire with brooding menace as it builds to the inevitable climax. Underscored by Brian Tyler’s score, it becomes a thrilling piece of action cinema.
The film is also not afraid to be brutal at times, including a showdown between Hoult and Jolie, but it all serves the neo-western feel that the film is going for. However, much of the film’s enjoyability might be reliant on how much you enjoy throwback movies that are in the B movie feel.
It might not be as subversive as Sheridan’s written works, but Those Who Wish Me Dead provides ample enjoyment for those looking for it, and a reminder that when she wants to be, few can hold a candle to Jolie’s power as a screen icon.