Considering how huge of a Hollywood star she is, I was surprised to realise that over the last decade, the only new performances I had seen by Angelina Jolie were her outings as Disney’s iconic ‘villain’ in Maleficent and Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil. I was pretty neutral on the first, and flat out disliked the second, so it’s been a mixed decade for Angelina and me! Though she hasn’t actually come through for me personally since the likes of 2008’s Changeling, I’m always willing to give Jolie a chance, so I was intrigued by this latest offering that seemed to be a return to her more action focused work.
Co-written and directed by Sicario creator Taylor Sheridan, Those Who Wish Me Dead tells the story of Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie), a Montana smokejumper who finds herself embroiled in a contract killer cat and mouse game when she assumed protection of a young boy named Connor (Finn Little). As if that weren’t enough, Hannah and Connor are also forced to contend with a rapidly spreading forest fire, set by the killers to both trap them and cover their own tracks.
In a completely popcorn sense, Those Who Wish Me Dead isn’t that bad, but the more you try to really analyse and look it from a critical point of view, the more it lets you down. On the surface of things, you’ve got Angelina Jolie looking incredible and being a survivalist bad ass, with some pretty great fight scenes and visuals to accompany her effortless star presence. But if you dig a little dig deeper you realise that the plot is incredibly flimsy and much of the dialogue is downright cringeworthy.
The selling point of both disaster movies and ‘on the run’ movies is that the audience is hugely invested in the safety of the key characters, but I can’t say that I was particularly engaged in the fates of those involved here. You can see the cogs of the screenplay turning to try to hook you in, a past trauma providing the motivation for a rescue this time in Hannah’s case, but the very fact that I noticed cogs turning means that it wasn’t natural enough for me to be truly won over.
The film is definitely at its best when the plot is focused on the forest fire survival rather than the threat of the incredibly generic ‘bad guys’. I think I would have been even happier with that cat and mouse element removed entirely and the story just focusing on escaping the Montana wilderness, because those fires were certainly the scariest villain in the narrative. Considering this film adaptation came from the same mind as the man who wrote the modern masterpiece Sicario, everything just feels really flimsy and hand wavy, to the extent that I’m still not 100% sure what sparked off the contract killer mission in the first place!
Like I said above, it’s nice to see a more recent version of Angelina Jolie that isn’t covered in green skin and horns. She’s definitely tapping more into previous performances in the likes of Salt, Wanted and, of course, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider here, though the action and fighting is far more gritty and less stylised than those past projects. She’s not doing anything particularly out of her comfort zone here, but sometimes it’s just cool to see a real movie star doing what she’s good at. Jolie does well with what she’s given, some of her dialogue is just downright awful, but along with the striking visuals and decent direction, she’s definitely the highlight of the film.
Nobody likes a bad child actor, and thankfully Finn Little’s performance as Connor is completely fine without being exceptional. There is actually a lot more going in the movie than simply the partnership between Jolie and Little, but in their time together they definitely convey a fast and enjoyable bond.
Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult have the misfortune of playing two really flat and uninspiring assassins, which is particularly annoying when any Game Of Thrones fan will know just how amazingly villainous Gillen can be at his best. Jon Bernthal and Medina Senghore round out the main cast as a sherrif and his wife who get caught up in the chaos, and whilst they are enjoyable, their inclusion more than any other character felt the most like ‘extra novel stuff’ that wasn’t successfully condensed for the big screen. It’s an enjoyable cast from top to bottom, but not all of them are given good material to work with here.
Overall, Those Who Wish Me Dead isn’t a perfect example of its kind, it’s not even a particularly ‘good’ example, but if you like Angelina Jolie and fancy something that’s visually cool and doesn’t require much brain power, then by all means give it a whirl. It’s a film that would have felt very much at home in, say, 1993, but from a 2021 point of view I just don’t think the movie has enough going for it to be classed as a winner.