Those Who Wish Me Dead movie review: Angelina Jolie thriller hews to genre clichés, but wins with its setting

Those Who Wish Me Dead has no surprises, aside from why a bunch of A-list actors decided to take up such old wine-old bottle roles, even if Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan is at the helm.

Rohini Nair June 10, 2021 11:10:58 IST

2.5/5

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a story we've seen Hollywood tell several times before: a kid sees/knows something they shouldn’t, has to flee from ruthless bad guys, finds a protector in an embittered/scarred adult for whom redemption lies in saving this particular innocent’s life. The specifics may be new: the adult in this case is Angelina Jolie, playing Hannah, a "smokejumper" (firefighters who parachute into the site of a wildfire to control it), and the kid is Connor (Finn Little), who’s witnessed his father, a forensic accountant, being murdered. Hannah and Connor have to beat the killers on their trail (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) and a raging wildfire. But Those Who Wish Me Dead has no surprises, aside from why a bunch of A-list actors decided to take up such old wine-old bottle roles, even if Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan is at the helm.

Lest I give the wrong idea: this is a fine movie, for what it is. It is just that the presence of such a stellar cast leads you to expect something beyond the cliché — a something that never materialises. Instead, Those Who Wish Me Dead follows exactly the track you know it’s going to, every beat falling into place as per template, all the way to its end.

To cut back to the beginning though: we’re deep in the Montana wilderness, where Hannah and a group of colleagues battle against wildfires. Hannah is a daredevil, and for sheriff’s deputy Ethan (Jon Bernthal) a troublemaker, pushed to take greater risks ever since she witnessed the deaths of three boys she was unable to save from a fire. Suffering from PTSD and having failed her department’s psych evaluation, she’s assigned to a lookout tower for a while — a remote and rudimentary outpost high up in the woods, from where the onset of a possible wildfire can be monitored and communicated.

Far from Montana, in Florida, two mysterious men appear at a house in Fort Lauderdale and blow it up moments later. A man in Jacksonville watches the news of the explosion and goes on the run with his son. The man is Owen (Jake Weber), the aforementioned forensic accountant. He had been working with the district attorney — the victim of the explosion — to unmask the fiscal wrongdoings of some Big Bad (who this villain is, isn’t mentioned in the film) and is next in line to be silenced. Owen and his son Connor set off for the Montana town where the boy’s uncle Ethan is the deputy sheriff, and where they’ve previously undergone survival training.

Unfortunately, the assassins catch up with Owen on the road, leaving Connor to find his way to relative safety and someone who can help him. It’s not a spoiler to say that the someone is Hannah, whose mission it becomes to protect Connor from the men pursuing him.

The Terminator vibe comes through in Those Who Wish Me Dead: a hunted child called Connor, Hannah as a throwback to Linda Hamilton’s Sarah, the machine-like efficiency and seeming invincibility of Hoult and Gillen as the killers. It is the setting then — the wilderness and the resourcefulness it takes to survive in its depths — that is the most memorable aspect of Sheridan’s film. The pace too is solid: the narrative rarely flags and there’s little in the way of extraneous material.

The problem with having a plot that hews so closely to familiar tropes, however, is that the characters seem like caricatures. There’s no back-story, nothing that makes them particularly remarkable, no action or reaction — even by such deft actors — that provokes surprise. In this scenario what you feel the most sympathy for in Those Who Wish Me Dead are the woods — once verdant and majestic, a charred wasteland by the end.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is available on BookMyShow Stream. Watch the trailer here —

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