Directed by Taylor Sheridan, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” offers a much bigger sandbox for the gifted actor-turned-action maven; his scripts for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” have launched him to the front of a genre dominated by CG robots, superheroes and other IP once associated with Saturday-morning cartoons. Such movies are plenty popular, but this one marks a welcome departure — one intended for grown-ups seeking more “realistic” diversion — without shortchanging audiences when it comes to spectacle or sound. Audiences shortchange themselves by watching on HBO Max since the ear-bleeding Atmos mix is as much a reason to see this on the big screen as the hell-on-earth visuals.
The “Me” in “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is 12-year-old Connor Casserly (Finn Little), who’s been riding in the passenger seat of his father’s car when a pair of trained assassins pop up along the forest road and perforate the windshield with bullets. The car smashes through the guardrail and plows down the slope, hitting a tree. Dying Dad (Jake Weber) orders his son to get out and find someone he can trust (Angelina Jolie plays Someone He Can Trust), and Connor goes scrambling off into the woods as the two men come back to finish the job. Except for the job — snuffing any and everyone who might know something about the crime they’re trying to cover up — is far from done.
The film presents hotshot smokejumper Hannah (Jolie) as very much one of the tough-talking guys, commanding respect while tolerating flirtation from the men on her crew. But a flashback to them parachuting into a woodland inferno shows the pain that feeds her nightmares when she misread the wind direction and was left to watch helplessly as three boys were consumed by flames. In what seems a quest for atonement by way of self-imposed wilderness exile, she takes a post manning an isolated forest watchtower, in an area not far from the home of Ethan (Jon Bernthal), her ex-boyfriend from the sheriff’s office.
The relationship that develops between Hannah and the child has a lot of potentials. She thinks she might have a chance at redemption: Connor is around the age of the boys who died in the fire. But the film is very busy leaping around to other events and other characters, like Owen's brother-in-law Ethan (Jon Bernthal) and Ethan's pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore), wondering why Owen and Connor haven't shown up. Ethan and Allison are a fascinating pair, and their dynamic is so intriguing it rivals what's going on with Hannah and Connor out in the forest. They could carry their movie, these two. Allison "runs a survival school," but that information comes in a throwaway line—so quick you might miss it. It's important information, which will come in handy later. More should have been made of this.
The good guys are allowed more room to breathe, yielding tender moments between Senghore and Bernthal. In the early scenes, Ethan still shows some residual sexual chemistry with Hannah, and Allison appears secure enough in her marriage to live with it. Australian actor Little, in his first American role, strikes a sympathetic balance between Connor’s stunning vulnerability and his eagerness to appear tougher than his age would imply. Jolie brings her usual lithe physicality to the action scenes and keeps a tight rein on the sentiment elsewhere. After first appraising the kid with cool detachment, Hannah then swiftly leans into her unaccustomed role as protector, finding an avenue for redemption. The well-crafted film’s principal arcs may be largely predictable, but it’s an emotionally satisfying and gripping watch.
Final Score – [7/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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