Those Who Wish Me Dead
Those Who Wish Me Dead is minor Taylor Sheridan work in the sense that he gets strong performances out of his more-than-capable cast, but the film is lessened because of an under-cooked script that never escapes from mediocrity. Even Angelina Jolie and Jon Bernthal can't elevate material meant for a middle grounds thriller.
Prolific Hollywood writer Taylor Sheridan steps back behind the lens for his latest thriller, Those Who Wish Me Dead. Angelina Jolie and Jon Bernthal star in this race-against-the-fire/escape from highly-trained assassins thriller, co-scripted by Sheridan, which features a handful of strong performances that are sidelined by a script that just doesn’t give a damn. Those Who Wish Me Dead is the perfect example of HBO Max material, in the sense that skipping a theater visit to watch this on something that you already subscribe to is probably the best way to consume this middle-of-the-road flick that absolutely had the potential to become much more.
Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a hotshot firefighter that has seen a fair amount of death and destruction go up in a blaze. A particular incident from a year ago has all but sidelined her and has had her questioning her worth each and every day. Her path crosses with Connor (Finn Little), a kid on the run after his dad has exposed dirty secrets that prompted a team of assassins to track them down and kill them. Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) are the deadly duo determined to kill Connor and anyone else that gets in their way.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is Taylor Sheridan‘s latest film, after directing the spectacular Wind River and writing Sicario, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Hell or High Water and Yellowstone. Long story short, Sheridan has quickly established himself as a writer with promise and on occasion, a writer that translates to director without skipping a beat.
I say on occasion, because Those Who Wish Me Dead is the first film that he’s written/directed that I was not completely blown away by. He normally writes films that are full of interesting characters put in unique situations, exposing the root of their problems through murky waters of morality that almost always include intense action and rewarding result.
Those Who Wish Me Dead feature strong characters that are paired well with great performers. Angelina Jolie, Jon Bernthal, Medina Senghore, Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult are all perfectly cast and provide the film with an array of talent from every corner. But their collaboration and efforts are put to waste as Sheridan’s film struggles with momentum and handling grief, short-changing strong character beats for quick tears and a quick progression of the impending fire that lingers in the background.
Then, when the film brings the fire to the forefront, the situation is abruptly deescalated and brought down from a raging roar to a quiet whimper. Why bother having such a backdrop to the story if you aren’t going to use it to create moments that could lend to the tension of the story or provide additional perspective for the characters to interact with?
Sheridan co-wrote the film with Charles Leavitt and Michael Koryta (based on his own book) and yet the film feels like it was put together in a hurry and shot without much thought put into it. I assumed having the writer of the book involved would only make matters better, not to mention another set of hands with a third screenwriter, yet Those Who Wish Me Dead becomes a boring afterthought that’s put out quicker than a kid throwing water on a campfire.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is a perfect example of where HBO Max benefits from the day-and-date release model of dropping a film on the streaming platform the same day as its theatrical release. I say this because this film is a disappointment in some regards and perhaps by simply watching it at home on a platform you were already paying for, then the blow would be softened as you didn’t have to leave the house and drop $10-15 on the price of admission. The film to me, is minor Sheridan work that is still better than a bulk of the movies we are getting pumped on at-home streaming platforms, but definitely far from Sheridan’s sharpest or most effective work.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is serviceable drama that had all of the ingredients to be great, but settled on good and that makes for a puzzling review. I hope others find more to add to the conversation about this film, but for now we will simply call it a loss amongst the pandemic and a shifting climate for movie-goers. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, but Those Who Wish Me Dead might be the wrong film to argue that they should keep making these sort of adult-focused dramas without fine-tuning the script and delivering a bit more when your trailer promotes a raging fire that’s simply bright lights in the background of a drama desperately needing some heat to keep things interesting.