Is it time for a campaign for better McGuffins? We surely deserve better that the lame duck vanilla variety featured in Angelina Jolie’s new thriller. A forensic accountant discovers something about someone, and two hit-men arrive to dispatch him. What did he discover? Arizona’s election results? Joe Biden’s list of muppets to suppress? A recipe for egg salad? We’ll never know, because the McGuffin is left so vague, it could be just about anything. It also seems well out-dated that Jolie has such faith in the media’s outreach that if she can just deliver the accountant’s son to a local tv crew, his broadcast will immediately resolve whatever problem is out there. In this and many other aspects, Those Who Wish Me Dead feels very much as out of date as the last turkey in the shop.
Based on a book by Michael Koryta and directed by Taylor Sheridan, this is very much a Jolie action vehicle, but not as much fun as the rather more kenetic Salt. Jolie plays a smoke jumper, trained to rescue the unwary from rolling forest fires, but traumatised by her own experiences. Hannah Faber now sits atop an observation tower, and that lonely position puts her in the path of a pursuit of a young boy Connor (Finn Little) who is on the run from a fatal car crash. Faber uses her skills to help him elude two men-in-suits (Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillen), but can she rely on the support of her ex Ethan (Jon Bernthal), now a deputy Sherriff and his pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore)?
Is it OK to feel less than enthused with Taylor Sheridan’s output of late? Sure, Sicario and Hell and High Water were good, but he doesn’t bring much to Koryta’s book other than his usual overcooked homilies about survival and tracking. Those Who Wish Me Dead relies on exhausted tropes about ordinary people being about to outfight trained hit-men, and although the firey finale is well done, too many of the Montana forest visas look as fake as the plot contrivances. TV has stolen the art of detail from cinema when it comes to thriller complexity, and ventures like this seem unlikely to restore it with the kind of hokey ‘will this do?’ tv movie plotting displayed here.
Having said all that, Those Who Wish Me Dead just about lands as entertainment, thanks to an empathetic lead from Jolie, and a few gut-punch moments of violence which keep the audience engaged. But the lack of specifics mark Sheridan’s film as a time-passer, with no great commitment from cast or crew, and tiresome, bickering hitman clichés to the fore. With this, Sicario 2 and Without Remorse of late, it feels like Sheridan needs to either get hard or go home; these films feel like blurred photocopies of his early work, and the comparison isn’t favourable.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is out now in UK and US cinemas, and on HBO MAX in the US