Review: 'Those Who Wish Me Dead' gets the job done as action entertainment
Raging forest fires, lightning storms and a young boy running from assassins who just shot down his daddy are the ingredients that propel “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” now in theaters and on HBO Max.
Director Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River”) stages tremendously exciting action, but it’s around a story you’ve seen hundreds of times before.
Enter the film’s main attraction, Angelina Jolie. Shipshape at 45 and back in action mode — can you believe it’s been 20 years since she first kicked butt as Lara Croft? — Jolie plays Hannah, part of an elite group of firefighters called smokejumpers, who parachute into danger zones with discipline and daring.
Except for an artfully placed smudge or two on her cheek, Jolie looks shiny and camera-ready throughout. She’s a star, baby, with the acting chops to make you almost suspend disbelief when the plot pushes improbability past the limits of common sense.
Hannah puts on a brave front, joking and boozing with the boys, but she can’t hide the guilt she feels about the three children she failed to save in a recent blaze. PTSD is eating at the hard heart Hannah has built around her feelings.
Also suffering is 12-year-old Connor (a terrific Fin Little), a boy who has lost his mother to cancer and is now on the run after the execution of his father (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant who has unearthed a conspiracy (don’t ask) that has marked him for death.
Tyler Perry shows up for five minutes as the boss who sics two killers on the kid. Connor is trying to reach his uncle Ethan (Jon Bernthal), a sheriff’s deputy and Hannah’s ex. Luckily, Ethan’s pregnant wife (a scene-stealing Medina Senghore) can outwit and outshoot anyone.
But Connor’s safety depends on Hannah, who spots him from her wildfire watchtower in the woods and sees her mission to rescue the boy as her redemption. The bonding of Hannah and the scared, reluctant Connor gives the movie what it has of heft and heart.
The film, shot in New Mexico posing as Montana (again, don’t ask), is a visual knockout and Sheridan, who also created the Kevin Costner TV series “Yellowstone,” knows how to build jolting suspense with the actors, including Jolie, doing some of their own stunts.
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Sheridan excelled as a screenwriter in such films as “Hell or High Water” and “Sicario.” But in trying to polish a script co-written by the book’s author, Michael Koryta, Sheridan goes down in cliché flameout, much like his recent adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.”
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” gets the job done as action entertainment, but those who wish for something deeper and more resonant are going to have to look elsewhere.
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