Angelina Jolie leads Taylor Sheridan’s latest crime thriller, Those Who Wish Me Dead, though Jolie’s star power can’t save this underwhelming entry into Sheridan’s impressive body of work.
Jolie plays Hannah Faber, a firefighter based in the treacherous Montana wilderness, who’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after failing to save some children from a devastating forest fire. She stumbles upon a boy roaming through the woods one day, covered in blood, and soon finds out that the boy, Connor (Finn Little), is on the run from a pair of ruthless hitmen.
The hitmen, played by Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, are eliminating anyone linked to some secret government financial cover-up and won’t stop until the job is done. Faber takes it upon herself to protect Connor, and at the same time, the gruff local police officer Ethan (Jon Bernthal), and his pregnant wife, are forced to outwit the cunning hitmen and stay alive. To make matters worse, a massive forest fire rages around them, threatening their every move.
The plot features a perfect setup for some super intense moments, and for the most part, it delivers them. There are some genuinely thrilling moments between Gillen and Hoult’s menacing assassins and any poor soul that interacts with them, and the forest fire lurking in the background serves as an ominous presence, suggesting the worst is yet to come. Taylor Sheridan is at his best when directing the action in the film but struggles to engage the audience whenever he focuses on the story’s dramatic elements.
Each of the film’s characters has a depth that’s longing to be examined, but there isn’t enough time to do it. Rather than focusing on character development, the script focuses more on the hunt and chase aspects, choosing action over drama. That’s usually fine, and it makes for some entertaining viewing. In this instance, however, we’re given glimpses of what’s beyond the surface of these characters, of whom we want to connect with emotionally but can’t because there isn’t enough time allocated to exploring them.
We don’t know if the film is about Jolie’s struggle with PTSD and her redemption arc, or is it more of a government conspiracy thriller. Perhaps the key theme is family and what a person will do to protect them. It’s all, and none of the above. Essentially, Those Who Wish Me Dead tries to cram too much in and loses focus. When there’s action and suspense on the screen, it’s done well, but the lack of emotional investment and character development hurts it dearly.
Taylor Sheridan’s previous film, the under-appreciated Wind River (2017), was a step forward for the writer/director. Sadly, Those Who Wish Me Dead is two steps backwards, though it is not without some redeeming qualities.
Taylor Sheridan was initially brought on to rewrite the script, but when another filmmaker dropped out of directing the film, he called the studio with an offer. “If I can get Angie to do this with me, I’ll direct it for you,” he said. The studio said, “Great. You’ll never get Angie.”