When I saw that Taylor Sheridan was directing Those Who Wish Me Dead, I was eager for my first new theatrical viewing in over a year, given my recently-acquired post-vaccination superpower. After all, Sheridan wrote the intelligent thriller Hell or High Water, then wrote and directed the almost-as-good Wind River.
Angelina Jolie is more miss than hit these days (though I did rather like Maleficent), but the rest of the cast tends to be discerning in their role selection. From About a Boy to Mad Max: Fury Road to The True History of the Kelly Gang, Nicholas Hoult reliably brings zip to his varied roles. Jon Bernthal was lucky to exit The Walking Dead before it devolved into soap-opera-with-zombies, taking his talents to intriguing films like Fury and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. And Aidan Gillen? He is no doubt a delightful person in real life, but he’s been successfully typecast as unctuous scammers: whether a Machiavellian mayor in The Wire, a loser dad in Sing Street, or a murderous ephebophile in Game of Thrones. If he weren’t an actor, it’s easy to believe he would’ve become a Republican Congressman or a drug rep to Florida pill mills.
All these superlatives make the failure of Those Who Wish Me Dead a mystery, but a failure it is. While it’s a nice change to make a public servant from the US Forest Service into the heroic protagonist, Jolie looks too glamorous to fill those shoes convincingly. Amazingly, she scarcely breaks a sweat after facing down a conflagration or climbing a fire tower ladder in the Montana wilderness.
When she stumbles across a boy fleeing the scene of her father’s murder by baddies played by Hoult and Gillen, the transformation of the diminutive teen from a “trust no one” munchkin into a kid who places his life into Jolie’s hands is utterly unpersuasive. I blame this miscarriage on a weak script and Jolie’s leaden line reading, as the kid (played by Finn Little) gives a solid performance overall.
Ultimately, Jolie and Little are not only running from the nefarious duo but additionally a forest fire started by them as a distraction. Alas, the fiery special effects are manifestly artificial at the blaze’s initiation and its implausibly rapid demise. (I suspect much of the imagery in the middle was footage from actual forest fires out west.)
On Jolie’s side is her frenemy from local law enforcement (Bernthal), who is also the boy’s uncle. His pregnant wife, in an enjoyable performance from Medina Senghore, turns out to be a bigger badass than Bernthal, throwing major obstacles in the villains’ path.
Of the two meanies, only Gillen is given any personality, as Hoult just mouths the occasional bland line and stands around handsomely. There’s also the baffling inclusion of blink-and-you-miss-him Tyler Perry as their boss, signifying there are puppet masters in D.C. who want the kid silenced. This plot line goes nowhere in Those Who Wish Me Dead’s awkwardly abrupt conclusion.
It’s unintentionally comical to watch Gillan’s character progressively get the snot knocked out of him during the film’s second half, in a sort of competition between him and Jolie for the title of Best Energizer Bunny. And the script tries its hand at some Schwarzenegger-like dialogue as the bad guys are dispatched. None of these lines are particularly clever or meme-worthy, however. But, like The Terminator, here’s hoping Sheridan says “I’ll be back” with a stronger story next time.
(Those Who Wish Me Dead is now playing in theaters.)
(Image credit for star rating: Yasir72.multan CC BY-SA 3.0 )