If Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario,” “Hell or High Water”) hadn’t directed “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” you’d have a bland thriller. Instead, the balance of time between the good guys and the bad guys keeps you interested, the action scenes keep the story moving, and the actors believably sell their routine roles.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is a movie of broad strokes: Jack and Patrick (Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult), two stone-cold assassins, hunt a little boy named Connor (Finn Little) for government secrets best left buried. Having received the information from his Dad and told to deliver it to the news, Connor’s chased until he’s eventually alone in the forests of Montana with Jack and Patrick hot on his trail. Things get hotter when Jack, wanting a distraction for the authorities while they search for the kid, tosses some road flares into the forest to create a combustible diversion.
Enter Hannah (Angelina Jolie), a firefighter conveniently located in a nearby ranger lookout tower. The tower is a form of exile for Hannah, haunted by a bad decision that cost some children their lives in a past forest fire. As fate would have it, an electrical storm knocks out the tower’s communication and, when Connor stumbles onto her, Hannah’s forced to lead Connor out of the forest to get to the nearest town. On the way, they’ll lock horns with the assassins and the road flare fire that’s become a raging inferno. Can saving Connor be Hannah’s redemptive act for her previous misjudgment?
On paper, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” sounds completely stale. But again, it’s a movie of broad strokes and the actors sell it. Jolie gets her best part in years as a haunted heroine fighting inner demons who has to step up and use survival skills to save her and the boy whose secrets can get them both killed. Finn Little does a good job subtly selling the emotions of Connor’s trauma and terror and both Gillen and Hoult smartly play their calculating killer roles. Add strong supporting characters in the local sheriff (Jon Bernthal) and his wife (Medina Senghore) who get thrown into the mix and “Those Who Wish Me Dead” becomes more well-rounded than routine. Based on the book by Michael Koryta, Taylor Sheridan also co-writes the screenplay, which may explain why the film balances the believable actors so well. With good CGI fire effects and a quickly paced plot, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is an engaging entertainment that devours its 100 minute running time like a blazing brushfire.