Director: Taylor Sheridan
Date: May 14, 2021
R | 1 hour 40 minutes
At a time where the box office is dominated by existing IP, superhero movies and sequels, Taylor Sheridan is more interested in reviving a genre he grew up on: the Western — which recently saw a resurgence after the 2007 Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, “No Country For Old Men.”
Sheridan — who famously rides a horse while on set — has created his own arsenal of neo-Westerns. After writing the critically acclaimed films “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” Sheridan ventured into directing with the underappreciated 2017 murder mystery “Wind River.”
His latest neo-Western, “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” stars Angelina Jolie and — on paper — sounds like a film primed for success.
The result is a hollow, albeit mostly entertaining thriller that doesn’t meet the high standard of Sheridan’s previous works.
Set in the forests of Montana, Hannah (Jolie) is a smokejumper who’s haunted by the traumatic events of a deadly forest fire. She’s been assigned to tower duty, but comes across Connor (Finn Little), a teenager who is on the run from two hitmen (Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult) who killed his father in search of sensitive information. The rest of the movie is a survivalist tale of Hannah and Connor as they try to escape the hitmen and an impending forest fire.
Released May 14 in theaters and on HBO Max, the film succeeds in delivering adrenaline pumping thrills. Jolie is excellent in the action sequences. She jumps into lakes, leaps from tall towers and gets struck by lightning. Even with poor character development, Jolie remains convincing and confirms she’s still a superstar.
Sheridan and his cinematographer, Ben Richardson (“Wind River”), use the vast Montana landscape as their canvas. The forests are captured beautifully. However, the true achievement lies in how they filmed the devastating forest fire scenes.
The opening sequence of Hannah’s tragic mission is executed with intensity and precision — reminiscent of scenes in “Sicario” or “Wind River.” Sheridan underwhelms with the CGI, especially in the lightning scenes. As thrilling as it is to see Jolie attempt to outrun lightning, it ultimately looks fake and distracting.
At less than 100 minutes, the movie barely gives the audience a chance to breathe, leaving it devoid of emotion. Hannah and Connor’s relationship, while charming, is rushed. They meet too late in the movie and are thrust into the action immediately. Likewise, the movie doesn’t explicitly indicate that the hitmen are brothers and misses out on the opportunity to create an emotional angle between them.
Sheridan and his screenwriters, Michael Koryta — who wrote the novel the movie is based on — and Charles Leavitt (“Blood Diamond,” “In the Heart of the Sea”), provide Jon Bernthal (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Ford v Ferrari”) and Medina Senghore (“Blindspot,” “Happy”) with the most effective subplot as an expecting couple also on the run from the hitmen. Senghore has a phenomenal action set piece against the two hitmen, making her one of the movie’s unsung heroes. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give these two the screen time they deserve.
Despite a lackluster screenplay, all the actors were cast well and gave impressive performances. Jolie, Bernthal and Senghore are the standouts, but newcomer Little holds his own against Jolie in an important role. The script relegates Gillen and Hoult to clichéd Hollywood hitmen, only there to execute the action.
Tyler Perry has a cameo as Gillen and Hoult’s boss in a wildly confusing scene. The movie never explains the exact motives of this boss or the importance of the information the hitmen are pursuing. Perry has shown he can be a good actor — he is amazing in “Gone Girl” — but Sheridan doesn’t use him well.
Above all, Sheridan’s sophomoric directorial effort is a throwback to the blockbusters of the ‘90s. It’s light on plot and high on thrills. Sheridan’s previous films were successful because they were able to combine poignant themes with popcorn entertainment. This movie has popcorn entertainment, but is missing heart. It’s great to see Jolie back in action — hopefully her role in Marvel’s forthcoming “Eternals” is more layered and emotionally satisfying.
While the spectacles would’ve looked great on a big screen, this movie is better suited on a streaming service. It doesn’t ask much of the viewer and consists of 93 minutes of mindless fun with recognizable stars — definitely worth a shot.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead,” rated R, is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.