Combustible Celluloid
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With: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen, Finn Little, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry
Written by: Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan, based on a novel by Michael Koryta
Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, and language throughout
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/14/2021

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fire Escape

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A good deal pulpier and less sophisticated than Taylor Sheridan's other movies, this effective thriller still displays a lean, taut storytelling style, despite its many moving parts and characters.

Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) is a tough-as-nails firefighter — a smokejumper — in the Montana woods. Haunted by her failure to save three kids in a deadly blaze, she's stationed in a fire lookout tower. Meanwhile, a forensic accountant (Jake Weber), who discovered some incriminating numbers involving a dangerous man, is on the run with his son Connor (Finn Little).

Two ruthless hitmen (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) are on his trail. After a deadly encounter, Connor finds himself alone in the woods — until he runs into Hannah. Can Hannah protect the boy, not only from the killers, but also from the massive wildfire they just started?

Based on a novel by Michael Koryta, Those Who Wish Me Dead fits in nicely with Sheridan's other modern "Westerns" — both as writer (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and as director (Wind River, TV's Yellowstone) — except that it's less about rural lives and more designed as a star vehicle for Jolie. Even so, two supporting characters, a sheriff (Jon Bernthal) and his pregnant wife (Medina Senghore) — a mixed-race couple — add some much-needed flavor to the otherwise straightforward proceedings.

Additionally, the two killers might have been all-too-familiar cliches, but Gillen and Hoult give them a stripped-down, all-business approach that makes them formidable villains. Weirdly, Tyler Perry of all people appears in one scene, as their criminal boss, and the author of all this chaos; somehow the scene centers the action and Perry manages to sell it.

Then, Sheridan's solid set-pieces and action scenes culminate in a showdown between Jolie and Hoult in a section of woods, the approaching fire creating deep shadows and an ominous orange hue. At the top of it all is that commanding movie star Jolie, staying sharp, finding a connection with young Little, and making Those Who Wish Me Dead feel like a traditional Hollywood entertainment.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release boasts a fine video transfer and booming audio track, and it comes with many, many options for language tracks and subtitles, but it's only bonus feature is a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette (at least the cast and crew were interviewed outdoors, rather than in the usual studio setting). A Movies Anywhere digital code is also included.

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