TL;DR – While it starts a bit muddled, it soon picks up, and the third act had me on the edge of the seat.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of the film.
Those Who Wish Me Dead Review –
I am not sure what you feel when you hear the word ‘firestorm’, but for me and I think many Australians, there is a visceral terror as we have all seen that all-consuming force. We know that destruction, year after year, so when you set a film in this world, there is a kind of instant buy-in as to the danger from the moment that first spark gets set off. But for a movie to work, it needs to be more than that, which is what we get this week.
Set the scene, we open with a group of firelighters jumping out of a plane and parachuting down into the oncoming storm. They’re smokejumpers, and they are trying to make a firebreak and shore up the defences when the wind turns the fire directly at them. A year later, two men walk into the house of a district attorney in Fort Lauderdale, and minutes later, the house explodes, killing the whole family. Back in Jacksonville, Owen Casserly (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant, is getting his son Connor (Finn Little) ready for the day when he sees the news and immediately knows he is next. The two flee to Montana, where Owen’s brother-in-law Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal) works as a sheriff, but just as they get close, the two men Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult), attack.
One of the interesting things about this film is how it deals with the concept of professionalism. When we first properly meet Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie), we know something has gone wrong in her past. In fact, she and her crew are used as an apparent juxtaposition between the fresh recruits and the hardened veterans. But for all their jocularity, when seriousness and professionalism are needed, it is there instantly. You see this in how they try to support Hannah through her grief and how they act with the fire. I also like how the assassins are not just buffoons that twirl their moustaches. They are very good at their jobs, they probably only make one silly mistake in the entire film, but you can kind of see why they did it. This professionalism makes them far more menacing because when they arrive at a house, you know they are a real threat.
This is also a film exploring the concept of loss and grief and how that manifests in people. Hannah is trying to process a loss that she was both directly responsible for and entirely not at fault. It is a setting that makes you feel that the psych evaluation was both far too harsh and not entirely out of the realm of necessity. This leads her to start acting recklessly in some regards but never at risk to others. But that loss is also how she was able to bond with Connor because she knew the pain he was going through. Loss and grief are not simple processes with easy answers, and the film does not provide any, but it does engage with the multi-faceted legacy it can leave in the world.
The fact that both of these themes work is because the actors are there giving their all, which does help smooth over some of the more silly aspects of the film that creep in. Angelina Jolie has always been comfortable in these action-oriented roles, and you feel her presence in every scene. But also big respects to newcomer Finn Little who steps up to the task of matching Angelina in each scene. In fact, their banter is some of the best moments in the film and good tension breakers. Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen both slink into the creepy assassins quite well, and you instantly buy Jon Bernthal as a small-town sheriff. The one person I really want to highlight is Medina Senghore, who plays Ethan’s wife, Allison. There is not a single scene in the whole film that Medina does not own with her presence. The moment she grabs that bear mace, you know she is someone you should not mess with, and her emotional journey was one of the highlights for me.
While overall, I quite liked this film, that is not to say it is a perfect film. The most glaring issue is that the first act is extremely messy. I mean, it is trying to juggle four different competing storylines. Still, even the editing and camerawork feel messy. Thankfully after the attack and things narrow, the film dramatically improves. Also, I am not sure this is a film that understands how lighting works or how best to avoid it. Finally, I am not sure it will be doing itself any favours with its obtuse title. I hope it does not go the way of Edge of Tomorrow.
In the end, do we recommend Those Who Wish Me Dead? Yes, yes, we do. While it has a messy start, it is always engaging, and when it takes off, you want to see how it ends, which is only amplified by the moment the first flame is lit. If you liked Those Who Wish Me Dead, I would also recommend to you High Ground.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Those Who Wish Me Dead
Directed by – Taylor Sheridan
Screenplay by – Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt & Taylor Sheridan
Based on – Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta
Music by – Brian Tyler
Cinematography by – Ben Richardson
Edited by – Chad Galster
Production/Distribution Companies – New Line Cinema, Bron Studios, Film Rites, Creative Wealth Media, Warner Bros. Pictures & Universal Studio
Starring – Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal, Jake Weber, James Jordan, Tory Kittles & Tyler Perry
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R