17th May2021

‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry, Boots Sutherland | Written by Taylor Sheridan, Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt | Directed by Taylor Sheridan

What’s worse than fleeing a pair of ruthless assassins in the woods? Try fleeing a pair of ruthless assassins in the woods in the midst of a raging forest fire. That’s the challenge faced by Angelina Jolie and young Finn Little in this high-octane survival thriller from director Taylor Sheridan (Wind River).

Little plays 12 year old Connor, who witnesses the murder of his father, Owen (Jake Weber) at the hands of the aforementioned ruthless assassins, Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult), after they run his car off the road in heavy woodland. Before he dies, Owen gives Connor two notepad pages of crucial evidence and tells him to only give it to someone he can trust, before bundling him out of the car and telling him to run for his life.

That someone turns out to be traumatised firefighter-slash-smoke-jumper Hannah (Jolie), who’s currently on fire tower duty after a recent tragedy in which her mistake (she “read the wind wrong”) cost the lives of a colleague and three boys in a forest fire. When she runs into Connor in the woods, he hands her the paper and she instantly realises why two assassins might be trying to kill him. There’s just one problem: Jack and Patrick have started a forest fire as a diversion while they hunt for the kid, so Hannah has a choice: face her fears and plunge into the fire, or take on the gun-toting killers, armed only with a fire axe.

Sheridan serves up several fun little action moments even before all the running and shooting starts, whether it’s Hannah parachuting out of the back of a speeding truck for lols or Hannah having to rope-slide out of the fire tower at high speed after it’s hit by lightning (the blisters she sustains are probably what earned the film its 15 certificate). The meat-and-potato action sequences don’t disappoint either, particularly the fight scenes – there’s a moment involving an aerosol that’s likely to give cinema audiences the sort of punch-the-air moment they’ve been craving all year.

Sheridan’s efficient direction keeps the action moving at a decent pace, ensuring that there’s literally never a dull moment. The effects work is decent too, augmented by some solid sound design that deserves to be experienced in the best cinema possible.

Jolie is solid and engaging in the lead, though the script really didn’t need to give her the traumatic backstory, as her situation is plenty perilous on its own and if there’s meant to be a moment where she overcomes her fear then it gets lost in all the smoke and confusion. Little is good too, generating strong chemistry with Jolie, while Gillen and Hoult prove offbeat but inspired choices as the two killers (they’re brothers in the book the film is based on, but you’d never know that here). There’s also strong support from Jon Bernthal as local Sheriff Ethan (who’s both Hannah’s ex-boyfriend AND Connor’s uncle, though the film bizarrely neglects to include a scene where Hannah makes that connection) and Medina Senghore as Allison, his six-month-pregnant wife, who proves remarkably resourceful in a crisis.

In fairness, Those Who Wish Me Dead does have its fair share of problems, but at least they’re the sort of problems that it’s fun to laugh about afterwards, such as why does Patrick still need the light on his gun when the fire has lit up everything around him? And just what is the conspiracy anyway? All we know is it’s important to Tyler Perry for some reason, given his single scene as, er, the boss of the conspiracy?

There are a couple of larger problems too. It’s weird that we never see Hannah’s fellow fire-fighters actually fighting the fire, for example, just as it’s almost insultingly laughable (especially given recent forest fire news) that the fire just burns itself out once the danger is over. Indeed, it does rather feel that the film doesn’t really understand how a forest fire actually works.

Still, if you’re prepared to overlook the more ridiculous elements, Those Who Wish Me Dead is an entertaining, efficient and pleasingly old-fashioned survival thriller that gets the job done and looks good doing it. Worth seeing in the cinema, and these days, that’s really saying something.

*** 3/5

Those Who Wish Me Dead is in UK cinemas from today, May 17th 2021.

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