Debuting on the same day cinemas reopen and look to the future, Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead feels like it’s stuck in the past. Billed as a white-knuckle thriller about assassins in the wild, it plays like a cheap action movie from the ’90s – all style and no substance.
Based on a novel by US author Michael Koryta, the film follows a pair of trained killers hunting a teenage boy who witnessed the murder of his father. Tasked with protecting him is Hannah the smokejumper, essentially a firefighter with a parachute. Portrayed by Angelina Jolie, Hannah does a lot of mooning around before they eventually go on the run in the Montana wilderness as a huge forest fire threatens to consume them all.
Sheridan finds some stunning imagery in the natural landscape – as he did in Wind River and Hell or High Water – but fails to properly draw his characters. Jolie’s Hannah is the only female smokejumper in her gang (for reasons never explained), and is lazily given a harrowing past but not much else. Finn Little, wet and whimpering, also fails to convince as Conner – someone like A Quiet Place star Noah Jupe might have been better suited to the role.
Of course, it’s always a treat to watch The Great star Nicholas Hoult play a villain – and he delivers the goods in assassin Patrick Blackwell. Peaky Blinders‘ Aidan Gillen, as his dad Jack, is just as grisly. There’s also a part for The Walking Dead alumni Jon Bernthal, whose stony-faced sheriff Ethan is one of few complex, but many grumpy, characters. The biggest problem with Those Who Wish Me Dead is the sheer number of serious actors, all acting very seriously, who turn a potentially exciting concept into something very… well, serious.
There’s also something to say about the way Sheridan treats the women in his story. Jolie does a fine job leading the film, but her character is little more than a rehash of tired tropes about strong femininity that always involve suffering. Alison, Ethan’s pregnant wife, contributes very little to the plot, yet is brutalised worse than anyone else. Surely, in 2021, we’re past using graphic violence to make a point about female bodies – particularly when your film is allegedly about how the natural world, with its unpredictable terrors, spares no one.
- Director: Taylor Sheridan
- Starring: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little
- Release date: May 17 (in cinemas)