Those Who Wish Me Dead is a fiery and intense thriller dominated by a pair of spectacularly ruthless villains. Angelina Jolie stars as a traumatized smokejumper who's forced to defend a fleeing boy from elite assassins. Adapted from the novel by Michael Koryta, the film has a simple plot with meager character exposition. But hits like a freight train with stark violence, a rapid fire pace, and skilled direction from Neo-Western auteur Taylor Sheridan.
In Jacksonville, Florida, a forensic accountant, Owen (Jake Weber), watches the morning news in great distress. A fire in Fort Lauderdale has killed a district attorney and his entire family. He grabs his young son, Connor (Finn Little), and races out of the house. They're skipping school today and going on a road trip. Meanwhile in Montana, Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) wakes up reeling from a vivid nightmare. A smokejumper and veteran forest firefighter, she's been relegated to lookout tower duty after failing a psychological evaluation.
Hannah gets drunk with her fire brigade. She riles up the local sheriff, Ethan (Jon Bernthal), with her antics. He's her friend, but just wants to get home to his pregnant wife (Medina Senghore). After a lighting strike at the tower, Hannah nurses her wounds at a nearby creek. She spots a blood-covered boy, who runs away from her. When Hannah finally gets Connor to calm down, he tells her the terrifying truth. He's being hunted by men (Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen) who will stop at nothing to kill him.
Those Who Wish Me Dead never lingers or explains any details of the narrative. It starts with a bang, literally, and doesn't stop. The entire storyline is basically predators stalking prey in the deep Montana woods with a raging fire chasing them all. Director/co-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water, Yellowstone) operates firmly in his wheelhouse. His characters live and die with exacting purpose. There's never any meandering around. The reason for the chase is never explained. This approach works to a fault. There's a lot left unknown at the film's conclusion.
The antagonists steal the show from Angelina Jolie. Veteran character actors Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult are as cold-blooded as they come. I found their relationship dynamics much more interesting than Jolie and the boy. The assassins kill with precision and efficiency. No one who sees their faces can be left alive. Every encounter with them is lethal. Gillen, most famous for his portrayal of Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger on Game of Thrones, analyzes their bloody deeds like a surgeon. His dispassionate delivery, and Hoult's unwavering obedience, is fascinating to see.
Those Who Wish Me Dead has special effects that are critical to the action. Fire is both an enemy and a savior. A few scenes are obviously CGI, but look real enough to be threatening. Being stuck between baddies and a searing fireball is a helluva situation. Taylor Sheridan uses great camera work and editing to aid the FX in staging a thrilling climax.
Angelina Jolie jumps back on the action wagon after years of doing dramatic and kid-friendly fare. The supporting players are more intriguing here, but she still has the chops to headline a solid action film. Those Who Wish Me Dead is a production of BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, and Film Rites. It will be released concurrently in theaters and HBO Max on May 14th by Warner Bros.