“Those Who Wish Me Dead”
Photo | BRON Studio
Angelina Jolie has not been as ubiquitous in the past few years as she once was, but she is on fire in the dramatic thriller “Those Who Wish Me Dead.” She literally is on fire a couple of times, and she struts around the Montana wilderness where she is a smokejumper, putting her crazy long limbs to good use helping a lost boy evade two men who are trying to kill him. Reeling from catastrophic misjudgment during a wildfire the year before, Jolie’s Hannah can’t stop thinking about the three young boys she failed to save, and she must battle her own demons to keep this little boy, Conner, from a terrible fate.
As Hannah, Jolie commands her every scene, and her weird chemistry with Connor keeps their struggles from being too melodramatic. However, a somewhat wide-ranging plot means Jolie is not in every scene, and fortunately, we get a great supporting cast more than ably filling out the film, especially the two villains who are after Connor. Nicholas Hoult, who will forever be the child from “About a Boy” to me, has apparently grown up from that fictional childhood to be a seriously bad dude, killing a Florida district attorney and his family (including an infant!) to cover up something that was never sufficiently explained. At his side is Aiden Gillen, the nefarious Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones,” who, being the perennially snide and sinister presence we know him to be, is even eviler.
Another Florida lawyer, Owen (Jake Webber), sees the terrible fate of the DA and realizes he and his son, Conner, are in danger because of his own involvement. Again, my main complaint with this film is the inciting incident that led the bad guys to chase our good guys was never really explained. Owen writes down his whole story for his son to share with the media in case he gets killed, and he explains to Conner he “did the right thing,” and that’s why these business-like and merciless murderers pursue them across the country. That’s all we get.
Although I remained unsatisfied with the details, dad Owen and son Conner race to hide out in Montana, where Ethan (Jon Bernthal), his late wife’s brother, is a cop. This is where all the plots meet; Hannah and Ethan used to be a couple. Ethan is now married and about to have a baby, and his pregnant wife, Allison (Medina Senghore), runs something called a survival school. As the bad guys descend on their wilderness retreat, Allison draws heavily on those survival skills, and she is so capable it is genuinely thrilling to witness.
I don’t watch that many suspenseful action films like “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” so perhaps I am naive, but I was on the edge of my seat. There was a lot going on, but all of it was pretty thrilling. Director Taylor Sheridan also wrote 2016’s “Hell or High Water,” one of my favorite films of the last few years. This movie lacks the complexity and satisfaction of that one, but it certainly delivers excitement and suspense. A summer thriller without superheroes can be a rare treat, and “Those Who Wish Me Dead” succeeds in that department.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is old-fashioned in a way, from the presence of box office veteran Angelina Jolie to the straightforward drama of the plot. You simply want to know if the plucky Hannah and Conner, not to mention the lion-hearted Allison and Ethan, survive the many horrors in pursuit of them. It was boldly free of any kind of innovation, twist or gimmick, but relied on the inherent emotion of a kid running for his life while a big fire raged in the background. It was awesome to witness the phenomenal strength and perseverance of not one but two women action heroes, Hannah and Allison, and as an extra treat, their gender was unremarked upon. They thought and fought hard, and it was the most natural thing in the world. If I could have just found out what Conner’s dad did to deserve being hunted by those awful hitmen, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” would have been a perfectly thrilling adventure.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is now playing at all multiplex theaters.
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