Adhering to a similar action efficiency of his penned Sicario, though not quite as emotionally rousing as his own Wind River or near-note perfect Hell Or High Water, Taylor Sheridan‘s Those Who Wish Me Dead is nonetheless a strong continuation of his brand of modifying the western genre.
Adopting an environmental temperament and leaning into the notion that the only thing more dangerous than mother nature are those that manipulate it, Those Who Wish Me Dead somehow manages to incorporate a string of plot points that could feel at odds with each other but manage to co-exist in a violent harmony that speaks to Sheridan’s narrative guiding skills.
Whilst the expansive fire that enflames the last half of Sheridan’s film assists in justifying the smoke-jumping profession of Angelina Jolie‘s Hannah, it’s her emotional connection to young Connor (Finn Little) and his attempted evasion of father-son contract killer duo Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) that truly define her character. We gather through minute flashbacks that she was unable to rescue the lives of three people during a forest blaze, and the seeming comfort she finds in hurting herself through showy stunts or the self-imposed isolation she adopts high above the Montana wilderness skyline is something of a self-inflicted punishment.
Offsetting Hannah’s stoic demeanour is that of the live-wire Jack and Patrick, whose introduction in the film immediately sets up the dynamic that they aren’t afraid to flex their violent muscle when necessary – or, in the case of a slew of shocking moments, unnecessary too. There’s an unpredictable nature to them that laces the film with a discomforting tension, especially exercised when law enforcement officer Ethan (Jon Bernthal) and his pregnant wife (Medina Senghore) are targeted in Jack and Patrick’s desperation to execute the young Connor; the boy having escaped their clutches during the slaying of his father (Jake Weber), assassinated due to his knowledge of certain information that remains largely unknown throughout the film, but clearly has connections to higher-up figures.
Whilst the film utilises Sheridan’s knack for dramatic exposition and violent set-pieces, it’s also, quite surprisingly, his funnest script to date as the back-and-forth banter between Connor and Hannah allows their familial relationship to develop in a rather organic manner; when she calls him “buddy” as a term of endearment, he informs her that’s what his dad called him, earning a rather humorous exasperated reaction from Hannah who notes that it’s near impossible to feel sorry for herself around him. It’s could-be throw-away moments like that that assist in Those Who Wish Me Dead being more than just a potentially-convoluted actioner.
Given that Jolie has become more and more selective with her film projects, it says a lot that something like Those Who Wish Me Dead earned her involvement. Whilst she’s a better actress than this type of material, there’s an evident investment in the role that takes full advantage of both her action capabilities and emotional return. The film benefits from her softer, more maternal instincts, leaving a lot of the dirtier, more violent work to her co-stars (particularly Hoult and Gillen) who find a glee in the darker shades of Sheridan’s scribed human nature.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Those Who Wish Me Dead is screening in Australian theatres from May 13th, 2021. It will be released simultaneously in American theatres and digitally on HBO Max from May 14th, 2021.