Those Who Wish Me Dead – Review

Those Who Wish Me DeadWriter / director / producer Taylor Sheridan has carved a career out of films that feel intimate to the point of intrusive. He really hones in on small, otherwise ‘uncinematic’ communities in order to deliver personal, poignant stories. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is 2017’s Wind River. In his latest movie, Those Who Wish Me Dead, he chooses a corner of Montana forest to play out his big screen adaptation of Michael Koryta’s novel.

The film runs two stories parallel to each other, initially, before they become intertwined. On the one hand, we have father and son, Owen and Connor (Jake Weber and Finn Little, respectively), who find themselves the target of two assassins, owing to Owen’s job as a forensic accountant. On the other hand, we have wilderness firefighter, Hannah (Angelina Jolie) who finds herself on watch tower duty, having previously been traumatised by her experiences in a forest fire. Their two worlds collide when Connor – en route to his uncle’s house – suddenly finds himself alone in the Montana forests.

The film does draw you in with an early-doors explosion that’s enough to jolt you upright and make you pay attention. But, from there, it doesn’t really maintain that kind of pace. If you’re expecting slick action scenes and big-budget drama, this won’t be the film for you. Yes, bullets go zipping through the Ponderosa Pines and there are a few tense fight scenes, but it’s more of a slow burn drama / thriller.

Whilst the story – and the dialogue – gets a bit ropey at times, the three leads really do carry this film. Finn Little is absolutely excellent as Connor, conveying equal parts fear, trauma and confusion. He holds his own against much bigger names and delivers a performance that is nuanced and empathetic. Jon Bernthal – as the local sheriff and Connor’s uncle – is warm and charming, with an edge. He’s a survivalist – the occasional hard flashes of steely determination in his eyes allude to his – but also a family man. It’s one of Bernthal’s more layered performances and he wears it well.

Arguably, Jolie is the weakest of the three, but that’s really because she’s not given too much to do besides stare off into the distance and cry. That being said, she has a natural rapport with Little’s character and their co-dependency is believable. Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillen support as the two assassins in pursuit. However, their characters are a little two dimensional and they don’t really seem like the ruthless killers they are supposed to be.

Those Who Wish Me DeadWhere the film falls down is the scale that it is trying to attempt. The CGI forest fires are not great looking and the idea of a wilderness firefighter willingly walking into one in order to resolve her trauma seems a bit odd. In fact – if we’re being really honest – the entire fire subplot could be erased from this film and it wouldn’t make a difference. In fact, it would probably make things better, since the ‘assassins in pursuit’ plot is a far more interesting story.

Some critics have noted that the film feels like a classic 90s drama – no doubt one starring Ashley Judd – and, having watched it, I completely understand that. Not just because of the freak weather element, but because of the pacing and the way the characters are formed. Having been a big fan of Sheridan’s previous work – including his screenplay for Sicario – this film does feel like the weakest of his efforts. It’s trying to be bigger than it needs to be in order to deliver a compelling story.

Whilst there are some really excellent performances here, it does feel like there is too much context in some areas and not enough in others. However, Those Who Wish Me Dead is still a compelling drama with a lot of nice touches to offer Sheridan fans.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is in UK cinemas as of May 17.

Mary Munoz
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