Director: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal
Run Time: 100 mins
Those Who Wish Me Dead is the latest from writer-director Taylor Sheridan and in keeping with his back catalogue, is another film that explores the modern American frontier. Sheridan has had an impressive career to date. He wrote Sicario, its underrated sequel and Hell Or High Water, all of which were excellent and were amongst my favourite films of their respective years. He also wrote and directed Wind River, which was another exemplary effort. More recently, he has turned to television with Yellowstone, which is now heading into its fourth season and he co-wrote Without Remorse earlier this year, which whilst enjoyable, wasn’t up to par with his other work. Here, he adapts a 2014 novel by Michael Koryta of the same name, Koryta also credited as a screenwriter for the film, along with Charles Leavitt.
Those Who Wish Me Dead centres on Angelina Jolie’s Hannah Faber, a smokejumper, who is mentally struggling after feeling as if she failed to prevent the deaths of three individuals in a forest fire and is now stationed in a lookout tower. Her path crosses with a young 12 year old boy, Connor (Finn Little) whose father, Owen (Jake Weber) has been murdered for his knowledge by two relentless assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult), who are now after Connor to silence him.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is another original and commanding effort from Taylor Sheridan. It is frequently thrilling and as is customary for the writer-director, there are some interesting twists narratively and in its portrayal of gender. The way in which Sheridan introduces the characters allow the audience to be two steps ahead of them, which is thrilling as we can predict how they will likely act when all the pieces fall together later in the film. Sheridan is again able to extract some excellent performances from the cast. Angelina Jolie makes for a commanding screen presence, haunted by what she feels is her mistake, and this is a solid project for her to pick in her acting comeback. Gillen and Hoult make for an unstoppable reckoning as the assassins.
Visually, the film is interesting in its portrayal of the beauty of the Montana landscape and it captures the ferocity of the forest fires the area can suffer with grandeur. There is even a memorable Brian Tyler score, whose work I have not been impressed with in the past.
That said, on a first viewing, the film feels more slight than Sheridan’s other work and it lacks an elegiac quality. The film is quite breakneck in its pacing and some further quieter moments to develop its characters further would have been beneficial. This is what propelled Hell Or High Water from a lean and mean modern Western with moments such as an altercation at a petrol station or two characters enjoying lunch in a typically Texan bar.
On reflection, the more slight nature of the film is perhaps intentional as we don’t know what the Macguffin is. Gillen and Hoult’s assassins are underdeveloped and we don’t know what knowledge Owen had that he has passed onto his son before his assassination. It’s powerful that Jolie is distrusting of Connor originally and then suddenly puts all of her trust in achieving the mission of evading his captors once she reads his note of his father’s findings, elevating the stakes.
Overall, Those Who Wish Me Dead is another original concept from Sheridan and the film is a thoughtful thrill ride from start to finish with some satisfying twists, even if on a first viewing, it doesn’t appear to have as much staying power as his other work.