Movie Review – Those Who Wish Me Dead
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is Taylor Sheridan’s sixth feature as screenwriter. Based on who’s counting, it’s his third feature as director. All of his previous films were about the muscularity and the aggressiveness of men, especially men with guns. All of his previous films were about said men trying to avenge almost jingoistically or get revenge for lost loved ones. The latter was exactly the case for his first feature, Sicario (2015), which was an original screenplay, as well as his most recent, Without Remorse (2021), which was an adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel. Sheridan still has that machismo endemic to his previous work. However, he subverts it a little by having the heroes here be women and in fact not one but two women take center stage as the kick-ass or bad-ass protagonists.
Angelina Jolie (Maleficent and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) stars as Hannah Faber, a firefighter working in Montana. She’s single and has no children of her own. She seems to be all about her work. She does like to hang out with other firefighters, drinking beers and talking smack. She has no trouble joining in the so-called locker room talk. It’s clear that she’s one of the boys. The only thing that sets her apart is her guilt over the death of several people in a huge fire. She keeps thinking about it and having nightmares about it. It’s not clear why she’s the only one that’s bothered by the deaths in that fire – unless her guilt is supposed to be a function of her gender.
Finn Little (Reckoning and Tidelands) co-stars as Connor Casserly, a 10- or 12-year-old boy who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his father who is a forensic accountant. When his father’s boss, the district attorney, is killed, Connor’s father worries that his life is in danger. Connor is then taken on the run with his father. They head to Montana because Connor’s father went to school there and befriended survivalists who still live in the state. Along the way, two assassins chase them, trying to indeed kill Connor’s father and Connor too. The boy has to grow up real fast and do what he can to stay alive. The actor playing Connor is comparable to Noah Jupe in terms of his look and his ability as an actor. Jupe is one of the most well-regarded actors under the age of 18, an A-list teenage star at this point, and Finn Little is right up there with him.
Sheridan’s Oscar-nominated film, Hell or High Water (2016) was comparable to another recent Neo-Western, that of No Country For Old Men (2007). This film is also comparable to that 2007 Coen Brothers classic or other similar Neo-Westerns. The style and simplicity are all there. The landscapes are probably key to those comparisons, but another way to describe it would be that this film gets to a point where it’s basically The Terminator (1984). It comes down to someone pursuing two people with the intent of killing one of them. Instead of that someone being a robot, it’s two hitmen who at times feel like they could have been plucked from Pulp Fiction (1994), only minus most, if not all the humor.
Medina Senghore (Happy! and Blindspot) also co-stars as Allison Sawyer, the pregnant wife to the deputy sheriff of Park County, Montana, which is near Yellowstone National Park. She has a ranch with her husband out in the woods, miles away from the nearest town. She’s a Black woman but she’s a survivalist who is well-trained with roughing it but with also utilizing a gun. She’s put to the test when the hitmen stop at her house, looking for Connor. Yes, Jolie gets top billing and really the only billing for this film, but it’s Senghore who steals this film. One forgets about Jolie as Senghore becomes the person who feels like the lead and the instant star who captivates us.
It got to a point where I ceased to care about Hannah and Connor. Even though the film gives both Hannah and Connor a lot of tragic back story, the film ultimately doesn’t spend enough time with them in survival mode to endear us to them. It’s in theory enough time, but strangely, Jolie’s character is separated from the action and danger for most of the film. The bad guys don’t even realize she exists until the final 20 minutes and then not even both. There are of course films where characters, even protagonists are separated from others. Hannah’s isolation is intentional and crucial to Jolie’s character, but it feels as though it short-changes her more than shores up her character.
Senghore’s character of Allison isn’t short-changed in that way, even if comparatively she has less screen time. Allison’s presence is felt more so than Hannah. Honestly, the film spends too much time with the hitmen, played by Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult. Sheridan probably wanted their roles to be akin to Javier Barden’s role in No Country For Old Men. He wants to revel in the horror and brutality with which the hitmen operate. Yet, there’s perhaps too much table setting for them and some things that aren’t necessary or go anywhere like a scene with Tyler Perry who seems only present because he’s a producer on the film.
Rated R for strong violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.
In theaters and on HBO Max.