There are two reasons that I look forward to Those Who Wish Me Dead: Angelina Jolie and Taylor Sheridan. The latter is, of course, best known for his screenwriting works in Sicario (2015) and the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water (2016). Both of them were among the best crime thrillers ever written in recent years. As for the former, it has been a long while since Jolie headlined an action role, with her last one happened to be Salt back in 2010.
In Sheridan’s latest film, which marks his second directorial effort after the solid neo-Western Wind River in 2017, Angelina Jolie plays the guilt-ridden smokejumper Hannah, who still couldn’t forgive herself for unable to save the three lives during a forest fire. She is now stationed at a watchtower overlooking the Montana wilderness until one day, she stumbled upon a young boy named Connor (Finn Little). It turns out that the boy’s father (Jake Weber) has been killed by two assassins (Aiden Gillen’s Jack and Nicholas Hoult’s Patrick).
With the assassins determined to locate Connor at all cost, it’s up to Hannah’s survival skills to save herself and the boy from harm while surviving a forest fire.
Those Who Wish Me Dead has all the hallmarks of a potentially tense survival thriller. Sheridan does give us some worthwhile moments (the brief but engaging scene involving a shootout and a car crash comes to mind) while the combination of practical and CG effects for the forest fire sequence is technically proficient. The film is also worth noting for Ben Richardson’s stunning cinematography shot on location in New Mexico as a stand-in for the Montana wilderness.
And yet, the film remains a mixed bag. While it’s nice to see Angelina Jolie back in her action mode and it’s hard to believe she’s pushing 45 this year, her character feels surprisingly perfunctory. Given the fact that Sheridan is no stranger to flawed and conflicted characters in the past, I find it hard to invest in her supposedly traumatic character who went through the pain and guilt. Besides, Jolie is capable enough as an actress who can pull off an impressively dramatic role as proven in the likes of Gia (1998), Girl, Interrupted (1999) and Changeling (2008). It was sadly a waste of an opportunity in what could have been a strong female character that joined the ranks alongside Emily Blunt in Sicario and Elizabeth Olsen in Wind River.
Relative newcomer Finn Little provides decent support as Connor but — again, surprising — lacks chemistry between him and Jolie’s Hannah, where it should matter the most. Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, in the meantime, fare better as two cold-blooded assassins.
Despite running at a seemingly economical 100 minutes, the film suffers from an erratic pace that takes too long for the setup to get to the point. Although I don’t mind Sheridan uses the same deliberate approach previously utilised successfully in Wind River, that’s hardly the case since it’s all surface-level storytelling in Those Who Wish Me Dead.
Ironically enough, the year 2021 isn’t too kind to Taylor Sheridan where his recent screenwriting work in Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse happened to be another potentially good film that missed most of its mark. Perhaps Those Who Wish Me Dead might have worked better if Sheridan handled the directing duty to someone else more qualified.