Those Who Wish Me Dead

While elite smokejumper Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) deals with nightmares and PTSD after losing three kids in a Montana wildfire, forensic accountant Owen Casserly (Jake Weber) realizes he and his middle school aged son Connor (Finn Little) are in serious danger in Florida when the DA he’s been working for is killed in a gas explosion he rightfully suspects was no accident.  Immediately hitting the road with cash and nothing that will track them, Owen calls his former brother-in-law, Deputy Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal), whose wife Allison (Medina Senghore) runs a survival school, for safe harbor in “Those Who Wish Me Dead.”

Laura's Review: B-

Cowriter (with the novel's author Michael Koryta and "The Mighty's" Charles Leavitt)/director Taylor Sheridan ("Wind River," TV’s ‘Yellowstone’) returns with another adventure tale set in the American West that positions a traumatized young boy and shaken professional between two ruthless hit men and a raging forest fire.  While the film’s opening scenes setting up the action play like a series of screenwriting tropes we’ve seen too many times before, the cannily cast ensemble inspires rooting interest and Sheridan gets into his groove once all his action has moved to Montana.

When brothers-in-law Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick Blackwell (Nicholas Hoult) ring a doorbell asking to inspect a gas line, we have to wonder how a DA’s wife, especially one investigating something very high stakes (it involves police and politicians but is otherwise this film’s MacGuffin), could be so naïve as to let them in.  And Hannah’s bolting upright in the middle of the night after experiencing fiery flashbacks, followed by foolhardy acts of bravado and joshing with the boys is all very “Only the Brave.”  But the bond Weber establishes with Little as they drive cross country feels so real it is genuinely heartbreaking to watch the father sacrifice himself for his son and suddenly those Blackwells appear a lot less predictable as an innocent witness will have no time to find out.

This is also bad news for the happy couple expecting to harbor them, the Blackwells having found a photo of their marks in front of Allison’s survival school in the abandoned Casserly home.  That’s right where the hit men head after learning there was a boy in the car they caused to crash, a boy who’s now missing.  They set a fire first, the better to preoccupy law enforcement.  They don’t know just who they’re up against though, when they begin to interrogate the six months pregnant Allison, who’s able to signal her husband with a distress word before doing some major damage to her tormentors.  Meanwhile Connor, whose dad has given him the information he was killed over, heads deeper into the woods.  Hannah, who’s been assigned to a 60 foot-tall fire-tower after a psych eval, spots the boy and eventually gains his trust.

Sheridan has two endangered couples fighting the darkest of humankind amidst the whims of Mother Nature.  Everyone here is somewhat unconventional as well, the white Deputy Sheriff married to a Black woman (in Montana!) who is arguably more kickass than he, the daredevil female fire fighter not the most maternal type to be caring for a child (Hannah engages Connor with R-rated tongue twisters and seduction advice – he calls her weird).  Even the hit men aren’t the usual usual, both cast against type.  Jolie’s long been one of the few female actors who can believably pull off extreme action and she does a lot of her own stunts here, leading us to wonder just why she’s so perfectly made up to fight fires, especially alone in a tower.

The filmmakers went all out to create a believable blaze, building a forest in the desert (New Mexico stands in for Montana) complete with a creek, with real trees supplemented by metal ones.  The film’s climax impresses us with the speed these fires can achieve.  There is also a rain-free thunderstorm which takes out the fire-tower’s communication and makes traversing wide open spaces awfully treacherous.         

The film could have used a little more time to part with its characters after their ordeal, the Sawyers never connecting with the young boy they put so much on the line to save.  “Those Who Wish Me Dead”     is still a solid thriller, though, despite some wobbles on takeoff and landing

Robin's Review: C+

A teenage boy witnesses his father’s brutal murder and is being hunted by two assassins who want the important secrets that he holds to stay secret. A survival expert and fire jumper, Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie), must take on the task of protecting and guiding the boy through the rugged Montana countryside, just when a massive forest fire threatens them all in “Those Who Wish Me Dead.”

Connor (Finn Little) is a young boy whose father, Owen (Jake Weber), is a forensic accountant for some very sinister people. Owen has some important, and damaging to his employers, information that he plans to release to the press. But, Mr. Big is on to him and sends two assassins, Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult), to snuff out the accountant. They set up an ambush on a remote road and successfully pull the hit off. Except for one thing, Connor hid from the killers AND has all of the bad guys’ scathing evidence.

Director and co-scribe Taylor Sheridan provides a nuts and bolts of a routine actioner that touches all the required bases as the several stories presented converge. We have murderous bad guys hunting the boy with a secret, the PTSD-suffering forest ranger taking on the task of rescuing said boy, a cop trying to figure out what the heck is going on and, oh yeah, a forest fire started by the bad guys to “get their attention.”

The tale plods away to its expected finale of good triumphing over evil and leaves a trail of mayhem and a tale of survival. It is entertaining and action packed but do not expect anything new and original.

Warner Brothers releases "Those Who Wish Me Dead" in theaters and on HBO Max on 5/14/21.