Taylor Sheridan has proven that he knows how to weave a suspenseful story driven by strong characters. With screenwriting credits that include Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River he carries a well earned reputation for crafting engaging and thrilling narratives. So, expectations were high when it was announced that Sheridan would be helming the star studded, action thriller “Those Who Wish Me Dead.” Unfortunately, Sheridan’s most recent outing lacks the sharp edge and originality of his previous works.
The film follows the most basic and rudimentary of plots. Angelina Jolie is Hannah, a rough around the edges firefighter with a haunted past. Hannah spends most of her time in seclusion, watching the wilderness from the isolation of her lookout tower. When she meets a young boy (Finn Little) in danger and being pursued by ruthless gunmen, she takes on the responsibility of getting the boy to safety. And just to fan the flames of suspense, the surrounding forest is engulfed in fire.
The supporting cast is filled out with incredible talent, including Nicholas Hoult, Aiden Gillen and the always fantastic and underused Jon Bernthal. But despite the efforts of the cast, these characters cannot be elevated beyond their one dimensional writing. Natural character development is thrown to the fire. Instead, the audience is force fed necessary background information through flash backs and exposition. The characters are mere outlines, lacking the details necessary to make them believable. The villains carry guns, hurt people and do the bidding of a feared and unknown boss. The hero is wild, haunted by her past and in need of redemption. That’s it. There is nothing more.
From the opening moments the film feels dated. The wonky CGI and obvious green screens appear to have jumped straight from an early 90’s actioner. The story unfolds as each character makes one poor decision after another. Just as the endless spread of forest is fuel to the approaching fire, the plot of the film is fueled by clichés and improbabilities. At moments the film reaches such levels of absurdity that it feels like we’re watching a third installment of Angeline Jolie’s “Tomb Raider” series. rather than a newly released film from a well respected film maker.
However, around the halfway point I found myself settling into the dated and predictable storytelling and finding it a bit entertaining in its ridiculousness. While the film does feel like a stumble in the career of Sheridan who last directed the far superior “Wind River,” it serves as mindless entertainment and an excuse to see Angelina Jolie back in action on the big screen once again. The story is more by the numbers than an elementary school coloring sheet. But even coloring can serve as an adequate way to pass the time once in a while.
With the film landing on HBO Max the same day as it hits theaters, it will likely serve its purpose of at home entertainment with few complaints. There are far worse ways to spend an evening than sitting in the comfort of your own home and watching a brand new film that would ordinarily cost a fortune on the theater. Just don’t go into the film expecting the same level of grounded intensity we’ve seen from Sheridan in the past and keep your expectations in check. 6/10