THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (2021) – Angelina Jolie Forest Fire Thriller Not As Hot As It Could Be

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (2021), a new thriller starring Angelina Jolie which premiered last weekend in theaters and on HBO Max, not only has a nifty title but is a pretty good movie in its own right.

Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a Montana firefighter reeling from a tragedy. At a recent forest fire, she misread the wind, and people ended up dead. As a result, she is dealing with trauma and relegated to occupying a fire tower in the Montana wilderness. She’s also hearing it from a local deputy Ethan (Jon Bernthal) whose begging her to get her sh*t together.

Meanwhile, two deadly assassins Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Holt) are hot on the trail of a forensic accountant Owen (Jake Weber) and his young son Connor (Finn Little) because as Owen tells his son, he found out some information that people will kill for, but he assures his son that “he did the right thing” and that he didn’t do anything wrong. It turns out that Owen’s brother-in-law is deputy Ethan, and as Owen makes his way to Montana to seek his help, Jack and Patrick follow him there.

There’s a confrontation in the woods, and young Connor escapes and later meets up with Hannah, who finds that defending this boy from the men who want to kill him will help her with her own personal demons.

As stories go, the one told in THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is a halfway decent one. It gets contrived at times, and the characterizations are nowhere near as on target as they need to be. It also never gets as deadly as one would expect. And for a movie that features forest fires heavily in its plot, and utilizes a major forest fire in an integral plot point, it doesn’t take full advantage of the spectacle. You don’t really feel the heat in this one. The forest fire action is all rather superficial.

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD was co-written by Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, and Taylor Sheridan, who also directed. Koryta also wrote the novel on which the movie was based. Charles Leavitt also wrote the screenplay for BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), one of my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio movies, as well as the underwhelming IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015).

Taylor Sheridan, one of my favorite screenwriters working today, suffered a major misfire a few weeks back with the subpar WITHOUT REMORSE (2021) which starred Michael B. Jordan. THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is better than WITHOUT REMORSE but nowhere near as good as Sheridan’s earlier movies, like SICARIO (2015), HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and WIND RIVER (2017). The best part of those Sheridan screenplays is they all contained deeper subtexts which really made their stories stand out. That’s simply not the case here with THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD. It’s a much more superficial movie than his previous efforts.

The cast is strong though.

Angelina Jolie is perfect as the scarred but resilient Hannah. She has a fearless off the wall personality that instantly makes her a compelling character. The only flaw is like the rest of the characters, there’s simply not as much depth or backstory as expected.

Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult make for an entertaining pair of assassins. They both possess personalities which lift them above cardboard cutouts. However, these personalities are never completely defined. The running “gag” which becomes almost a catchphrase, is that they “hate this place” as everything seems to go wrong for them on their quest to hunt down the boy. Which is true. So as the movie goes along, I couldn’t help but wonder: are these guys simply incompetent? They are certainly not meant to be comic relief… they’re assassins out to kill a boy… but at times, their plights becomes almost laughable. It’s a weird combination. But both actors are enjoyable.

Aidan Gillen has starred in PEAKY BLINDERS (2017-2019) as Aberama Gold and in GAME OF THRONES (2011-2017) as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. I’ve enjoyed his performances in both, and he’s just as good here.

Nicholas Hoult has a ton of credits, from Beast in the new X-MEN movies to playing J.R.R. Tolkien in TOLKIEN (2019) and Nikola Tesla in THE CURRENT WAR (2017).

Jon Bernthal is always good, and he doesn’t disappoint here as deputy Ethan. Medina Senghore is even better as Ethan’s pregnant survivalist wife who gives the assassins more than they bargained for in one of the movie’s best sequences.

Jake Weber adds fine support in a small role as Owen, the dad who became a target of assassins because he “did the right thing,” and Finn Little is very good as young Connor.

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is a solid piece of entertainment that kept me hooked for its brief one hour and forty minute running time.

At times, it flirted with being a deeper film, but sadly never succeeds in this endeavor, repeatedly returning to a superficial and shallow story that works no better than a pre-summer popcorn movie.

Yup, this is one forest fire movie that simply isn’t as hot as it should be.

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