Still reeling from the loss of three lives, Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) is a smokejumper who’s perched in a watchtower high above the Montana wilderness. She soon encounters Connor Casserly (Finn Little), a skittish boy who’s bloodied, traumatized, and on the run in the remote forest. As Hannah tries to bring him to safety, she’s unaware of the real dangers to follow: two relentless killers hunting Connor, and a fiery blaze consuming everything in its path.
Although his career as a director and screenwriter only began ten years ago, Taylor Sheridan has already cemented himself as an incredibly talented name among film fans and casual moviegoers all around the world. He has gotten so good to the point that a lot of people will just go out to see a film if his name is attached to it in any way, and I can certainly see why. And really, I’d do the same.
Sheridan served as the screenwriter on excellently gripping films such as Sicario and Wind River and even wrote the television series Yellowstone which has been somewhat of a sleeper hit since its debut. But sadly, his recent effort Without Remorse managed to be a shocking dud for the otherwise brilliant Sheridan. It was a film that was disappointingly dull and incredibly disposable. And I hate to say it, but his newest work Those Who Wish Me Dead, which he directed and wrote, is yet another flop. Are we witnessing the slow decline of a once remarkable talent in the industry? Only time will tell but things certainly aren’t looking too good.
Honestly the premise and overall concept of Those Who Wish Me Dead is quite strong and you’d be forgiven if you saw the synopsis and wanted to see it because you thought it sounded gripping and because Sheridan wrote it. I was thinking the exact same thing. The amount of potential here was high but it ultimately did not come together in the end.
The film really wants you to care about a certain number of its characters, but because the script barely gives any time to focus on them or flesh them out, we are left with a group of people who just kind of feel like they’re there. It’s almost like we are supposed to care for them because they are the main protagonists in the film but we definitely need more than that to root for them. Those That Wish Me Dead spends a few minutes with each character and thinks that it’s enough to get you to root for them but it’s not.
Angelina Jolie’s character Hannah Faber is promoted heavily in this film’s marketing campaign. She is quite literally front and center on the poster and every commercial I’ve seen on television for this has essentially only shown her character and Finn Little’s character. Interestingly though, Jolie feels a little bit like a side character for a big portion of this movie.
We only ever learn a couple of things about her character throughout the duration of this movie. The most important thing we learn is that she is a firefighter and many years ago, while on the scene of a humongous forest fire, she saw a group of young kids get trapped in the forest and die from the fire. If she rushed in and saved them, they would have all died anyway, but the trauma still haunts her to this day.
It’s a great setup for a character that could’ve been extremely sympathetic and interesting, but really, that’s the extent of her character development. Jolie is certainly great in the role and she brings her A-game here like she usually does, but I couldn’t help but wish I was watching this strong performance in a different movie altogether.
Finn Little who plays Connor Casserly is similarly good here although he isn’t incredible or anything and the film doesn’t need for him to be some incredible actor here so it’s completely fine. His entire role was to be a sympathetic kid and one that you felt bad for and I did for the most part. He gets some fairly good development at the beginning of the film but strangely enough, his character doesn’t get much more fleshed out afterward.
And one of the biggest things this movie wants you to feel is an unbreakable bond between both Connor and Hannah, but I rarely felt it. When they first meet, they are kind of hostile given the circumstances they are in but it’s only a couple of scenes later and they almost have a sort of mother-and-son relationship that just came out of nowhere. I admit that at the end of the movie it felt a bit stronger but the initial setup for the two characters was extremely rushed.
Do you want to know what wasn’t rushed, though? This film in general. It boasts sluggish pacing that makes it quite the challenge to get through. The first thirty minutes feel oddly uneventful for a movie with such an interesting premise. These introduction scenes just show us a couple of the firefighters wisecracking with one another and barbequing in the hot summer heat.
These scenes were more than likely included to show us the tight-knit relationship that these firefighters have with one another and I can see why it was included, but why make it go on for so long? We only needed maybe one or two scenes like this, but the first thirty minutes are like this. And even after those ridiculously boring scenes were out of the way, the film as a whole didn’t pick up a whole lot after. Yes, the central conflict is a lot more entertaining to watch but the execution was underwhelmingly poor.
It’s fascinating how so many incredible actors are involved in this project (i.e. Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen) because it really is one of the most forgettable movies I have seen all year. Even if you do watch Those Who Wish Me Dead and have a good time with it, it’s probably not going to linger in your mind for a really long time afterward. Once again, I have to reiterate just how disappointing that is because all of Sheridan’s work up to this point has been incredible. Each film of his has dealt with amazing themes and was told with such skill, but this is the rare exception for the filmmaker. I definitely won’t go as far as to say that this is the end of the road for Sheridan but things are starting to look bad. Come on, Sheridan. I believe in you.
Overall Grade: C-
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, and language throughout
Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: May 14, 2021
Running Time: 100 minutes