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- Those Who Wish Me Dead
- Directed by Taylor Sheridan
- Written by Taylor Sheridan, Charles Leavitt and Michael Koryta, based on the novel by Michael Koryta
- Starring Angelina Jolie, Aidan Gillen and Jon Bernthal
- Classification R; 100 minutes
I had to check the calendar a few times while watching the new thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead, so convinced was I that it was a late-August movie. You know the type of film by now: mid-budget, mid-stakes, sorta ridiculous, with just enough famous faces and promotional oomph to make an impression during the dying days of summer. I guess I was surprised that director Taylor Sheridan’s film was instead arriving smack in the middle of spring, where heavier hitters usually tread. But nothing should surprise anyone these days.
Before I go further, I should clarify: late-August movies aren’t by definition bad. Many can be worthwhile – sturdy blue-plate specials after a summer of fatty, deep-fried junk cinema. To continue the tortured metaphor, Those Who Wish Me Dead is solid meat-and-potatoes fun – it knows its job, gets it done with minimal fuss and leaves its audiences full and satisfied.
It is also somewhat coy. At least in its marketing, which positions the film as a big Angelina Jolie star vehicle. Sure, the actress is here playing Hannah, a Montana smokejumper (yes!) who is battling personal demons (double yes!) but also suddenly becomes charged with protecting a young boy from a pack of mysterious assassins (triple yes!). And the actress, infrequently seen in non-Maleficent roles these days, is more than effective. Jolie gives Hannah enough emotional depth to make you care whether or not she survives the many, many, many attempts on her life by man and nature.
But Jolie is, by my crude estimate, only onscreen for about 50 per cent of the film. Those Who Wish Me Dead is more of a three-pronged affair, and all the better for it. There is Hannah’s story, but also a near-equal amount of time devoted to the local sheriff (Jon Bernthal) and his pregnant wife (Medina Senghore), as well as the cold-blooded antics of the film’s villains (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, an oddball pairing that works).
Everyone plays the material dead-serious, and even though the script at one point requires several characters to outrun a giant wall of fire, the sincerity works. Bernthal, who reteams with Sheridan after being the best thing about the director’s wobbly 2017 thriller Wind River, is especially good as the small-town lawman who knows his fate better than anyone.
Listen: let’s not pretend that Those Who Wish Me Dead is a work of art. Or that it reaches the hardcore-action heights of, say, Cliffhanger or The River Wild, to name just two works that Sheridan apes. But sometimes you simply want to see a movie star stab a guy in the chest while a raging inferno burns in the background. Even if it’s not August.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and the Cineplex Store, starting May 14, the same day it opens in Canadian theatres, dependent on public health restrictions
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.