This thriller burns out before the fire even starts
By Diana Beechener
When Warner Brothers announced that it would be releasing its entire 2021 slate on HBOMax as well as in theaters as part of their plan for the pandemic, there were mixed results. Movies like Godzilla vs Kong and The Suicide Squad are no doubt served better as big-screen features. But arguably films like Those Who Wish Me Dead benefit from this streaming deal, because this movie was meant to be watched on a rainy Saturday while scrolling on your phone. If you pay any closer attention to this film, you’ll fall into one of the plot holes and break something.
The movie follows Hannah (Angelina Jolie: The One and Only Ivan), a smokejumper who was left traumatized after a decision she made cost the lives of four people. Unable to pass a psych evaluation and rejoin her team, she’s exiled to a fire lookout tower in the middle of the Montana woods.
It’s here she finds Connor (Finn Little: Harrow), a boy who’s being chased by two assassins who murdered his father. Just before he died, Connor’s dad gave him the only proof of a massive conspiracy that implicates…pretty much everyone other than Hannah in a vast criminal conspiracy. If the two assassins don’t kill Connor and recover the evidence, they and their powerful employers are as good as dead.
Hannah must lead Connor out of the woods, avoiding both the assassins and a raging wildfire that threatens to consume everything in its path. Can Hannah overcome her trauma and save Connor?
Think of this movie as The Client meets Backdraft if neither of those movies was particularly interesting. Based on a book that I hope was better than this, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a thriller with very few thrills. Director/co-writer Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone) spends no time developing the characters of anyone on screen. As such, there’s very little to care about when bullets and fire start spreading through the frame. The movie also suffers from dreadful pacing that kills any tension even though a fire is threatening to immolate all the characters.
The unconvincing fire is only one of the issues holding the film back. This is a movie that doesn’t bother with answers when ambiguity will do. We don’t know who specifically is trying to kill Connor, we don’t know what evidence Connor has, we don’t even get to see the contents of the note Connor’s father left his son. Hannah’s trauma is also one of those clear-cut no-one’s-fault issues that will be easily solved by the end of the film. Those Who Wish Me Dead has no interest in its own story, so it’s hard to understand why the audience should.
Part of the problem is the complete lack of stakes. Jolie does the bare minimum to keep Hannah from being a blank slate. She spends most of the film looking lovely but not entirely comfortable with the role she has. She has a few genuine moments with Little, but for the most part, she’s rather vacant. As a side note, my movie companion (a former firefighter) was horrified that Jolie spent about 90 percent of the movie with her long, billowy hair flowing around her shoulders. Hair is quite flammable and people who fight fires for a living keep it tied up.
Unfortunately, the only character that sparks real interest or drama is Medina Senghore’s Allison. A pregnant woman who runs a wilderness survival school, Allison encounters the assassins and gives them quite the run for their money. Senghore (Happy) imbues Allison with a steely determination that makes her the most compelling thing on the screen. Her struggle to save herself and her baby is far more interesting than the wildfire or the plight of Connor and Hannah.
Though we’re getting back to a time when people are going to physical theaters, it should be remembered that streaming is still a viable option for moviegoers who aren’t comfortable buying a ticket just yet. Because no one wants to pay $13 per person to sit in a theater and watch this.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is available on HBOMax
Poor Thriller * R * 100 mins.