Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead is the second recent Warner Bros/HBO Max venture that would have felt more common as a mid 90s release. Take an Oscar winner/nominee and put them in a generic thriller where you’re saving a kid from generic assassins or solving the crimes of a demented mass murderer. Let the guilty pleasures commerce. In the serial killer genre, we saw it early this year with Denzel Washington and The Little Things. This one reminds me of titles like The Client with Susan Sarandon or The River Wild with Meryl Streep (the latter especially since it deals with forces of nature).
I’ll confess that I’ve developed a soft spot for material like this. It takes me back to a simpler time a quarter century ago where blockbusters didn’t primarily involve CG spectacles. And, yes, when movies like this took up whole shelves at Blockbuster and were rated R for non-gimmicky reasons.
Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a smokejumper in Montana assigned to desk duty due to a wildfire that ended in tragedy. That demotion places her in a lookout tower with gorgeous natural settings that clash with her unnatural hair extensions. The monotony of her assignment takes a turn when she comes across Connor (Finn Little). The preteen is on the run from assassins (Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillen) who offed his forensic accountant dad. Why did his father meet his demise? The screenplay doesn’t much delve into that, but you might be interested to know that Tyler Perry has something to do with the dirty deed.
As Hannah attempts to bond with Connor, the killers frantically try to find them. Jon Bernthal is Ethan, a local sheriff with ties to the boy and he happens to be Hannah’s ex-boyfriend. He helps run a survivalist school with his expectant wife Allison (Medina Senghore) and they make it tricky for the bad guys to complete their business. This is an example of where Sheridan’s screenplay (with Michael Kortya and Charles Leavitt) hints at more compelling directions it might have gone in. When Allison gets to show her abilities while in danger and quite pregnant and on horseback, I couldn’t help but think a script about her handling these thugs would have been more rewarding.
With Jolie, she doesn’t have much of a character to work with. Her backstory involving past career missteps is thin. Her rapport with Little (in a solid performance) does have some highlights. Sheridan has created far more memorable moments in his previous written and directed works like Sicario and Hell or High Water. He’s continually shown an ability to make his scouted locations a gripping participant. That holds true with the Montana wilderness and the fire that eventually rips through it.
With Those Who Wish Me Dead, this is where words like serviceable get overused. It is, however, accurate. I found myself reasonably entertained during its brisk 100 minutes and the 90s throwback feeling makes it easier to forgive lapses in logic. This is hardly a towering achievement, but the inferno didn’t bore.
*** (out of four)