Writer and director Taylor Sheridan is making a habit of creating strong modern-day westerns. The likes of Sicario, Hell or High Water & Wind River have either been written or directed by Sheridan, and he yet again proves his talent for tight, muscular thrillers in Those Who Wish Me Dead.
Angelina Jolie plays Hannah, a smokejumper whose recent mission ended in the fatality of a group of children she could not save when a wildfire quickly got out of her control. Sent to a fire lookout tower in Montana, either as a demotion or a chance to get her mind right, Hannah encounters Connor (Finn Little). Connor is on the run from two assassins – Aidan Gillen & Nicholas Hoult – who have just brutally murdered his father (Jake Weber), because he knew too much about their employer. Also caught up in the web are Deputy Sheriff Ethan (Jon Bernthal) and his wife Allison (Medina Senghore), who must get to Hannah and Connor before either of the assassins can.
Taylor Sheridan’s filmography highlights his ability to create the type of thriller you used to see in the 90’s. Strong characters drawn together, invariably while something completely out of their hands rages around them, while each trying to thwart the others plan. It could be adverse weather, a building on fire or a bus ready to blow up if it goes above 50mph. Here, our two professional killers start a forest fire in the hope of distracting the local police force – a sound idea, but used to odd effect here. Likewise, the character motivations seem very basic. Hannah has suffered psychologically and must reassess her life, instead of drinking to excess with her firefighter buddies. Connor is on the run to save his life. Ethan is a grizzled Deputy giving Hannah a hard time in the hope of getting her back on track. Meanwhile, Jack & Patrick (Gillen & Hoult) are mercilessly tracking Connor down, killing anyone they come across. It’s all quite ruthless at times, and despite the basic approach just mentioned, it does work effectively enough during the films 100 minutes. These characters and their situations are forced into each others lives and they must adapt quickly to what is in front of them, if the film spent more time filling out their backstories then it would take away from the action.
Essentially, Those Who Wish Me Dead works despite its faults. There is an uneven vibe and arguably somethings seem unfinished. But, its strength is in the films set-pieces and the level of tension that Sheridan manages to wring from the films fairly minimal plot. Oddly the more interesting characters are Ethan and the twin assassins. Despite Angelina Jolie taking top billing, her character is sidelined for large parts, with her actions limited to run, hide, run and look anxious. Those Who Wish Me Dead really does deliver a mixed bag of results, but taken for what it is – a tight, action-fuelled thriller dripping in 90’s sweat, it’s a happy diversion from Disney remakes and superheroes saving the world.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 30 August.