Those Who Wish Me Dead

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Those Who Wish Me Dead
"Taylor Sheridan's latest action flick has a workmanlike solidity but despite the repeated presence of physical infernos it never manages to get beyond a low heat in terms of tension." | Photo: © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

Taylor Sheridan's latest action flick has a workmanlike solidity but despite the repeated presence of physical infernos it never manages to get beyond a low heat in terms of tension. Most of the problem lies with the fact that it lacks any firm emotional core. There are a lot of good actors here - Angelina Jolie, Jake Weber, Nicholas Hoult, Adrian Gillen and others besides - but by failing to fully commit to building at least one character's emotional arc before the wildfires start, writer/director Sheridan feels as though he is creating a by-the-numbers version of his much better work, like Wind River and Hell and High Water, although the latter was also lent additional verve by the direction of David Mackenzie.

Sheridan is a lover of landscape and archetypes and Those Who Wish Me Dead - adapted from the book by Michael Kortya - is full of both. While the forest vistas and wide open spaces of wilderness America hold their own against the plot, the characters - a traumatised hero, imperilled kid, resourceful sheriff and his, inevitably, heavily pregnant but capable wife - jostle with one another for attention. Jolie's Hannah is the hero, but time spent with her towards the start of the film setting up the 'bad thing' that happened and her, consequent, devil-may-care death wish, feels like a waste of time when so little attention is paid to this back story beyond 'trauma flashbacks' once the action is fully up and running.

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Sheridan tries to keep the Jolie story on a low heat while he builds the backbone of the plot that sees youngster Connor (Finn Little, playing off the older performers well despite having little to do but be anguished) on the run with his dad Owen (Weber). They are being chased by assassins (Gillen and Hoult) as they try to find sanctuary with Owen's ex-brother-in-law sheriff Ethan (Jon Bernthal) and his wife (Medina Senghore), plot manoeuvring that will eventually lead to a good portion of the forest going to blazes as Connor and Hannah try to survive.

There's plenty of good work in the acting department and Sheridan is helped somewhat by expectation, for example with Weber, who after his long-stint on US TV show Medium is a good shorthand for 'lovely dad' - but there's still a sense of all the characters being pieces in Sheridan's god game, just waiting to be moved around the board to their predestined positions.

As there's never much doubt as to who will survive and who won't, even the action set-pieces lack tension - although in Sheridan's defence they never want for spectacle, which is why this film will be best if you have the chance to catch it, safely, on a big screen in cinemas, when they reopen.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2021
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A traumatised firefighter tries to help a young boy on the run from assassins in rural Montana.

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Writer: Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan, based on the book by Michael Koryta

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry

Year: 2021

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada, US

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