In Those Who Wish Me Dead, Angelina Jolie plays Hannah, a smokejumper who is haunted by a mistake that led to a family dying in a forest fire. All of her recent psych evals seem to indicate that Hannah is self-destructive and a danger to herself and potentially others. Of course, it doesn’t help that Hannah keeps doing things that are self-destructive and that put her and potentially others in danger. She’s watched over by her fellow smokejumpers and her ex-boyfriend, Ethan (Jon Bernthal). Even Ethan’s pregnant wife, Allison (Medina Senghorse) is looking out for Hannah.
Hannah, meanwhile, finds herself looking out for Connor (Finn Carter), a young boy whose father has been murdered by two ruthless assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult). Because the boy has evidence that could lead to the downfall of an evil mob boss (played by Tyler Perry because, hey, why not?), the assassins search for Connor and they even set a forest fire to cover their tracks.
Trapped in the wilderness, Hannah, Connor, Ethan, and Allison have to somehow survive until the fire burns itself out and the smokejumpers can reach them. Meanwhile, the two assassins are closing in….
I was initially pretty enthusiastic about the prospect of watching Those Who Wish Me Dead on HBOMax but, ten minutes into the movie, I found myself wondering if maybe I was watching something that was made in 1998 and somehow not released until 2021. Everything about the film — from Hannah’s tortured backstory to the verbosely evil assassin played by Gillen — felt like it belonged in a direct-to-video thriller or maybe in a pilot for an old USA Network show starring Cynthia Rothrock and Lorenzo Lamas. It was very easy to watch this movie and to imagine Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze showing up as brothers fighting “the wildfire of the century!”
Oddly enough, Angelina Jolie probably could have starred in the 1998 version of this film. That’s how long we’ve been taking it for granted that Angelina Jolie can confront any crisis or any villain and basically kick its ass. That’s a huge reason why I was so looking forward to seeing Those Who Wish Me Dead. It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to watch Angelina Jolie play an action hero and the fact that she was doing it in a film directed by Taylor Sheridan just made it all the more exciting. Unfortunately, though, Jolie doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in Those Who Wish Me Dead. There’s not much of the unpredictable spontaneity or the sense of danger that, in the past, made Angelina Jolie one of the most exciting actresses around. It’s easy to imagine that, just a few years ago, Jolie could have worked wonders playing someone as openly self-destructive as Hannah but, in Those Who Wish Me Dead, she instead often seems to just be going through the motions. If anything, Aidan Gillen makes a bigger impression, despite the fact that he’s just playing a standard bad guy.
(Speaking of bad guys, why is Tyler Perry playing a crime lord? There’s nothing menacing about Tyler Perry. The fact that Perry only appears in one scene makes his miscasting all the more obvious. As soon as you’ve said, “Wait — why is Tyler Perry in this movie?,” he’s gone. Perry needed at least two extra scenes where he could have killed someone or at least maybe cursed a little or anything else that could have established him as someone other than Tyler Perry making a strange cameo appearance.)
Taylor Sheridan both directed and had a hand in the script. Sheridan previously wrote Hell and High Water and Sicario and both directed and wrote Wind River. These are three of the best films of the past decade and, yet, in the early scenes especially, Those Who Wish Me Dead almost feels almost like a parody of those previous films. The early scenes, where Hannah hangs out with the other smokejumpers, especially ring false, with the blue collar dialogue feeling forced and artificial. Sheridan does better when directing the action scenes but there’s still an overwhelming blandness to the whole film. There’s too much talent involved for Those Who Wish Me Dead to be terrible but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel that there’s also too much talent for it to be this forgettable.
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