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Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

Directed by: Taylor Sheridan

Premise: Based on the novel by Michael Koryta. A boy (Finn Little) flees into the woods of a national park, pursued by the assassins who murdered his father. A park service firefighter (Angelina Jolie) tries to guide the boy to safety.

What Works: Filmmaker Taylor Sheridan has distinguished himself with action movies that are lean and brutal but also have compelling characters and complex moral problems. Sheridan was the writer of the Sicario films and 2016’s Hell or High Water and he wrote and directed Wind River and episodes of the television series Yellowstone. Those Who Wish Me Dead is consistent with Sheridan’s style while expanding the scale of the story. After an opening that brings together a suburban teenager and a troubled park service firefighter, most of the film takes place in the wilderness amid a forest fire and the scenario allows the movie to stage some visually impressive set pieces. Those Who Wish Me Dead is grander and more kinetic than anything Sheridan has done before. The picture continues Sheridan’s pattern of creating characters who are haunted by failure. The characters of Those Who Wish Me Dead aren’t as vivid as those of Sheridan’s other films but the movie is led by an exceptional pairing of young actor Finn Little as the teenage boy and Angelina Jolie as the firefighter who takes charge of him. Both characters are traumatized and their relationship grows in ways that are credible and engaging. Jolie’s has often played characters who are cool and in control but she does well here as someone who is messy and struggles to relate to a child.

What Doesn’t: One of the great strengths of Taylor Sheridan’s films has been their non-Hollywood sensibilities. By contrast, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a much more commercial film and it is sometimes compromised in that way. Despite its rugged style and mostly practical approach to action, Those Who Wish Me Dead is an example of Hollywood’s idea of fires and firefighting. The heat and smoke of forest fires are overwhelming but the action scenes of this film are often staged just yards from the inferno. In one scene, Finn Little and Angelina Jolie’s characters run from the flames which pursue them as if the fire was alive and sentient; the sequence is reminiscent of the absurd super freeze scene in Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. These details aren’t in keeping with the tone of the rest of the picture but they do allow Those Who Wish Me Dead a few fun escapist thrills.

Bottom Line: Those Who Wish Me Dead abandons some of the edge of Taylor Sheridan’s other films and for that reason it is one of the filmmaker’s lesser works. But this is nevertheless an entertaining action picture with some good performances.   

Episode: #853 (May 30, 2021)