It’s been a minute since Angelina Jolie has starred in a proper adult action movie- in fact, her last one was “The Tourist” in 2010 (god, remember “The Tourist“?). But Jolie is back at it, soon to appear in Marvel’s “The Eternals,” and currently starring in writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s “Those Who Wish Me Dead.” But even though the latter film markets Jolie as the lead, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” doesn’t really feel like her movie, and it’s failure to properly utilize such a great star is one of its biggest flaws.
Jolie plays Hannah, a smokejumper wrestling with the guilt of failing to save three young campers in a forest fire. She’s now stationed at a remote lookout tower in the Montana wilderness. Meanwhile, Owen Casserly (Jake Weber) goes on the run with his son Connor (Finn Little) after one of his colleagues and his family are found dead in an apparent gas explosion. Owen is a forensic accountant who apparently dug up some stuff on a mob boss, and believes they will be after him next. We never learn the details of what information he possesses, and outside of a brief appearance from Tyler Perry, we don’t know much about this mob boss either. But it actually isn’t all that important; all you really need to know is that Tyler Perry has sent two assassins (Jack and Patrick, played by Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) to find and kill Owen and his family. It’s when Connor is left to escape the assassins in the forest on his own that he connects with Hannah, who tries to help him. Also on the case is local sheriff Ethan (Jon Bernthal), who happens to be Connor’s uncle.
Back in January, Warner Brothers releases the 90s thriller “The Little Things,” which felt like a painfully dated knockoff. “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is a turn in a more positive direction: a thriller that feels like something that could have been made in the 90s or early 2000s, not because it looks or feels out of touch, but in the straightforwardness of its plot, where all you need are a couple deadly killers and some decent people trying to survive, and its lack of noticeable computer effects. Once it gets started, the film rarely lets up, and it places its characters in a variety of stressful situations, from giant lightning strikes to a raging wild fire to shootouts and abductions, that keep the viewer engrossed despite the lack of a more complicated story. Even though it starts off more real and ends leaning more in the realm of ridiculousness, it’s still entertaining. A lot of this success is likely due to having Sheridan, who wrote some of the last decade’s best action movies (most notably 2016’s “Hell or High Water”) helming the project.
But it’s regarding the characters where the film really flounders. It seems less like Hannah is the protagonist, despite the opening of the film focusing on her and her struggles with her past, and more like the hero role is split between her and Ethan (and arguably Ethan’s wife Allison, played by Medina Senghore, who steals every scene she’s in with her fierceness and conviction). Hannah is a bit rough around the edges and has some good banter with Connor, who is initially wary of her, but we are left to make the assumption that she is helping him as a way to atone for those she failed to save before; whether or not that is something she has made peace with by the end of the movie isn’t entirely clear. On the flip side, Ethan isn’t really given a definite character arc or conflict, but his story still feels unsatisfactorily resolved also. Sheridan’s script furthermore takes a lot of unnecessary steps to prove just how evil Jack is. He’s the quintessential 90s baddie, but do we really need to watch him rough up a very pregnant Allison to know that? A few of his scenes feel like they exist more for shock value than for anything else.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is incredibly watchable, proving that all you need for a decent action movie are a couple bad guys with guns chasing a couple good guys. But the film’s failure to properly utilize Angelina Jolie makes me question whether Hollywood still doesn’t really know what to do with female action stars.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is currently playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max until June 13. Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated R.