Director: Taylor Sheridan
Screenwriters: Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Medina Senghore, Aidan Gillen
Genres: Drama, Action/Adventure, Thriller
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout
Release Date: 5/14/21
Runtime: 1h 40min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
Where to Watch: Theatres, HBO Max
Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead is probably the kind of movie that should be seen on the big screen, and now that theatres are reopening — including big chains like Regal and AMC — that’s certainly doable. But, there’s something so convenient of just being able to watch a movie at home, without needing to pay extra to watch the movie (assuming you already have the streaming service). That said, I can see how Sheridan’s latest would be exciting to watch in a theater, especially with others in the audience. It’s the kind of entertaining action/adventure flick that’s not quite good enough to stand out from others in the genre, aside from outstanding work from the cast, including Angelina Jolie in her return to acting (after a several-year hiatus).
I had high hopes for this one, as Sheridan’s terrific screenplay for Hell or High Water is inventive and totally unique in that particular genre, and from the trailer for Those, it appeared that this film would follow in those footsteps. Unfortunately, despite quality performances from Jolie, newcomer Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, and also-newcomer Medina Senghore, the film isn’t quite the game-changing it appears or wants to be. This mainly lies in the script, which almost moves too fast and leave too much information out, leading to a fairly disappointing ending, with few answers. And yet, even though many of the narrative beats are actually quite predictable, it’s still [mostly] enjoyable and fascinating to watch. Maybe we’ve — the cinephile/#filmtwitter community, that is — lowered our standards when it comes to these sorts of movies.
I found another principal problem of the film to be with its characterization of the villains, played by Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones alum) and Nicholas Hoult (X-Men universe). They are presented are men who are pure evil, and yet we don’t understand their motivations — aside from a random appearance from their boss, played by Tyler Perry (for some reason) — or believe that they would go to such extremes. That’s no fault of Gillen and Hoult, who both do their best with these confusing characterizations, although the chemistry between them is practically non-existent. Their characters engage in such destructive, violent behavior that I was extremely satisfied when [SPOILER ALERT] they both met their demises (essentially at the hands of women).
Speaking of bad-ass women, Jolie reminds us that she is still a movie star and a talented actress in her own right, and even though some of her dialogue is poorly written, she delivers it with so much believable emotion. She clearly felt some sort of connection to the character, or she would not have taken the role. Her scenes with young actor Little — who’s actually Australian — are among the best; for his part, Little does much more than you’d expect from a child actor. He could have very easily overplayed it, but he doesn’t. Even though his character’s part of the story is never fully resolved, he sells it. Then, there’s Senghore, who is easily the MVP of the film, stealing every scene she’s in. Her ability to transition from soft, loving wife (to Jon Bernthal’s sheriff) to gun-toting pioneer woman is impressive. I’m excited to see what she does next. It’s unfortunately that she and Jolie don’t share any scenes together, as I would’ve loved to see their characters team up.
And, yes, there’s a lot of fire in this movie, although we don’t get to see Jolie do any real [or seemingly real] firefighting. We get a flashback to her as a smokejumper during one particular mission gone wrong, and then we’re mostly seeing her navigate the fire in the woods. Honestly, I’m not sure how accurate much of this is, as I’m incredulous about the odds of survival in that type of situation. But, then again, the filming of these scenes is so tense and the emotions so palpable (again, thanks to the acting), that this hardly matters.
All in all, I’d say it’s an enjoyable watch, albeit nothing about it changes the game or will be nominated for any major awards. That said, it should be a great jumping point for newcomers Senghore and Little.