Review: Angelina Jolie elevates conventional but fulfilling '90s throwback 'Those Who Wish Me Dead'
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
It’s ironic Taylor Sheridan’s grimy ode to “dad” movies, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” will likely see the bulk of its views come via HBO where once upon a time, simple thrillers of this caliber were discovered buried in the cauldron of late night cable programming, begging to be discovered and thus gain ultimate rewatch status when it eventually landed on TNT. Boasting big “Double Jeopardy” and “The Fugitive” energy, Sheridan (“Hell or High Water” and “Wind River”) mounts an eerily formulaic picture with Angelina Jolie stepping in as the top billed talent. It’s the recipe studios like Warner Bros used throughout the nineties: small budget, big star, and a mindless plot so easy to follow it was like comfort food. If the year were 1995, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” would be tracking for a $40 million debut weekend with the possibility of eclipsing $200 million in lifetime grosses.
Audiences who do venture out (or check in via the HBO Max app) might be surprised at the simplicity of “Those Who Wish Me Dead” and forgive the generic characters with a flimsy plot because it's so gosh darn enjoyable. Adapted from Michael Koryta’s novel of the same name, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is a lean, 100-minute thriller that doesn’t strive to be anything other than a nostalgic throwback, and Sheridan - who knows a thing about writing country folk with a high moral compass - doesn’t let off the gas, keeping true to the format and structure of normal people getting tossed into perilous situations; where someone knows too much, and they must be stopped before it's too late! Cue the shameless Tyler Perry cameo.
The film opens with Anglina Jolie in pure “Lara Croft” mode, smoke-jumping into a Montana wildfire because, why not. Her timid backstory and guilt of not saving three innocent teenagers a few years prior notwithstanding, it’s refreshing to see Jolie let loose playing Hannah Faber, a small town girl unafraid of paragliding out the back of a moving pick-up. In the next sequence, two well-dressed suits played by Aidan Gillen (terrific) and Nicholas Hoult (duh) come snooping around a district attorney’s residence where a few minutes later, the house behind them explodes for all the practical reasons.
Trying to piece together logic from the first thirty minutes of “Those Who Wish Me Dead” will prove futile, especially as a nearby forensic accountant deduces he’s next on the shitlist and books it to the survival school where Faber works and his old pal, now a sheriff played by Jon Bernthal, resides. Hannah crosses paths with the accountant’s son Connor (Finn Little) after he manages to flee from the trap set for his father by the bad guys. Equipped with dad’s most valuable secrets, Connor is now public enemy No. 1 with shocking revelations that, obviously, could implicate top-tier officials in law enforcement and political office because, why not!
The survivalist story that ensues between Faber and Conner doesn’t go beyond the surface level but Sherdian doesn’t seem interested in exploring further, which is a choice not met with swift resistance from this critic. Jolie - who hasn’t been this badass in front of the camera since 2005’s “Mr and Mrs. Smith” - is just along for the ride and Medina Senghore almost steals the show playing the pregnant wife of Bernthal’s sheriff who creates a make-shift flamethrower and high tails it on horseback. This all taking place while a massive forest fire spreads in the Montana wilderness, crescendoing in a smoke-filled climax so insanely ridiculous, it’ll slap a big dumb smile right on your face.
THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD will debut in theaters and on HBO Max, Friday, May 14th