Based on: The novel ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ by Michael Koryta Rated: R
Screenplay: Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Medina Senghore
Those Who Wish Me Dead is a story that can’t quite figure out what it wants to be and therefore has no focus, no direction. While based on a novel by the same name, which I haven’t read, the film is forgettable despite the talented ensemble.
The intense opening scene choice is to engage the viewer and sets a tone for Hannah’s (Jolie) character. Quickly the audience figures out that what eats away at Hannah is never resolved; it’s never even explored. Given that Hannah is a smokejumper, she literally jumps out of planes to fight forest fires; it seems absurd she would still be working. Instead, she’s shunted off to a fire tower. I don’t know anything about firefighters within the forestry department (of any country), but that seems like it might be insulting to those that do staff such towers. Beyond that, she has no identification or uniform clearly indicating she is anything other than a backcountry camper/hiker.
Hannah’s lack of credentials brings me to Conner (Little), a 12-year old she encounters, randomly, among the acres of trees. The kid has reason to be afraid and just decides to trust the first person he sees. Given the reason he’s in the woods, to begin with, that is a huge ask. There is nothing special about Little’s performance. Literally, any kid could be plopped into this role. That point is a letdown because the film, ultimately, is about him, not Hannah or fires. No one actually fights fires in this film. You see the all-consuming blaze, but it’s never a critical factor to the movie until the last twenty minutes or so.
If you want a better story, conclusion, character development, and action that intimately involves fire, watch Backdraft.
Jake (Gillen) and Patrick (Hoult) Blackwell are a sibling team of hitmen for…who the hell knows. Some character played by Tyler Perry is as weak as the toss-away excuse for the plot of the story. Perry’s one scene adds nothing that couldn’t be conveyed over an angry phone call from literally any voice. The brothers are a well-oiled machine, working well together. There is no backstory for them; they just kill anyone that gets in the way of their objective. Their dedication to one another and the job they are hired to do is admirable, even if Jake is old enough to be Patrick’s father. However, there’s only one reason two well-known actors were cast. If throwaway actors had been used, the audience wouldn’t be as invested in the pursuit through the woods.
A movie where the main character is a smokejumper who doesn’t go near a fire can’t be shot in Florida, where part of this film takes place. No, you need a more remote state where people are less likely to care about toting guns around. Montana’s the ticket; it’s remote enough! Alaska would have been my choice…
Remote or not, every area needs law enforcement. Who better than Jon Bernthal to depict Ethan Sawyer, a Sherif’s deputy with survival skills? I mean that as a compliment, he really fits the bill for this role. Allison Sawyer (Senghore) is a treasure! As Ethan’s pregnant wife, she handles herself like I want a survivalist living in the woods against some dangerous circumstances too. In terms of action and suspense, she steals the show.
Everyone knows Jolie can handle herself in action sequences. She made her mark off of films like Salt, Wanted, and the Lara Croft Tomb Raider franchise. She knew what the script for this film asked of her, and she took on the role, understanding it wasn’t anything like those mentioned above. Some may argue this diminishes Jolie’s abilities. She chose to take on this new project after her absence, of sorts, from mainstream adult roles. Yes, Hannah essentially hikes and sits around the whole film, but it’s not about her. The story insults the notion and need of proper healing and mental health after a tragedy more than Jolie’s acting chops.
Those Who Wish Me Dead never evolves from the rationale that springboards the story into being. The film expects the audience to accept what’s happening because ‘it’s a thing that would happen’ and just go with it, despite some glaring questions that are never addressed or answered. Conner, Ethan, and Allison’s characters could have been more fleshed out and some backstory while dealing with the Blackwell brothers without Jolie’s character ever being part of the story. Or fire, for that matter.
The cast for this movie alone is not a reason to see it. The plot sure isn’t. Those Who Wish Me Dead suffers from false trailer expectations, like so many films. It frames it to be more action intense, including intense fire sequences, and it’s not. With a dry spell of content still plaguing online outlets and open theaters, you could watch this movie if you’re desperate, but don’t waste your money to do so.
Under traditional viewing standards, I would say don’t add this to your watchlist. There are better films out there that successfully tackle the ideas in this film.
—a pen lady