Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)
Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: May 14th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Taylor Sheridan Actors: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Medina Senghore, Jake Weber, Tyler Perry

 


 

S

moke jumpers descend upon a raging fire that has already claimed the lives of several firefighters as well as innocent kids trapped amid the colossal flames. But it’s just a nightmare that awakes northwest forest service employee Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) in a cold sweat. The next morning in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, two men posing as city officials, Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult), murder the district attorney and stage a gas line explosion at his house. And their killing spree is just getting started. But the next target, Owen (Jake Weber), the DA’s forensic accountant, realizes that he’s in danger and flees with his son Connor (Finn Little), heading to the Soda Butte Survival School in Montana. In the scenic mountainside resides longtime friend and brother-in-law, Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal) and his pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore).

Meanwhile, Hannah is stationed at a remote fire tower in the same state, where the extreme solitude gives her an opportunity to reflect on her past mistakes (such as the one a year ago that haunts her dreams) and the grief stemming from those decisions, as well as her current need for daredevilry as a coping mechanism. But she’ll get more than peace and quiet out in the wilderness when she runs into Connor, covered in blood and running for his life. And her particular set of skills comes calling at the most inconvenient time when the pair of assassins engages in a bit of distracting arson.

Right from the start, Hannah and her crew of loud-mouthed, expletive-spewing firefighters don’t ring true; their excessively chummy horseplay, facetious rivalry, and sportive goading are a stretch. Even if they mirror actual friendships, this glimpse into their bonding is cinematically overwrought and forced. Fortunately, that camaraderie isn’t a major component of this tale. In fact, the story is primarily about Faber’s battles with her inner demons and the ways in which helping a new victim (a frustratingly whiny boy) might alleviate her constant nagging guilt. “Are you someone I can trust?”

A slowness also wafts about the killers and their murders, stymied by brooding flashbacks and minutes taken up to dwell on scenery or character development – which would normally be a good thing. But here, the villains are more interesting than the heroes, who do an awful lot of sulking. The bad guys are an odd pairing, even if they’re generally just inefficient, sadistic terrorizers (and they seem to have more screen time than anyone else, even making the people behind their evil deeds all but inconsequential); the good guys are far more generic, either plagued by misplaced remorse or nonsensical bouts of defiance or unconvincing bravery. “We don’t take unnecessary risks.”

Curiously, despite the fact that the basic premise of fugitives escaping political assassination is enough for a thriller, there’s also a crash course on survivalist tactics mixed in – as well as firefighting catastrophes and frenzy. Unfortunately, most of the tension is conspicuously manufactured, with characters and situations designed to allow for unlikely escapes or table-turning opportunities. If realism actually creeped into this film, the protagonists would be dead before anything happened – not that that would make for traditional entertainment. But the phoniness is pervasive, blunting any chance at genuine excitement. Plus, the scenarios are incredibly dark and violent, almost to the point that they’re comical – and it’s those morbid conflicts with the deadly pursuers that ultimately matter, since the movie essentially stops after that acute, specific predicament finds a resolution.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10