Review: ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ (things to do in Montana)

They remade Firestorm without Howie Long?

Relegated to a lonely watchtower in Park County, Montana, former smokejumper Hannah (Angelina Jolie) lost her nerve after losing civilians and fellow firefighters in a blaze. Meanwhile in Florida, a mysterious explosion prompts a forensic accountant (Jake Weber) to flee for his life along with his young son Connor (Finn Little) with two professional hitmen (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) in pursuit. Because of what he knows and who it could take down, the accountant is on his way to meet Sheriff Ethan (Jon Bernthal)… who just happens to be Hannah’s ex-boyfriend and also stationed in Park County. Oh, and at some point, someone starts a forest fire, of course.

Wallowing in 90s action-movie goodness, Those Who Wish Me Dead has all the ingredients for stylized violent storytelling: a failed hero with something to prove, savvy bad guys too smart for their own good, and victims in need of saving. Everyone is more than they seem, and motivations hint at reaching consequences far beyond little people in a big place. Based on the book by Michael Koryta and stocked with a solid cast, does this film survive its jump into action adventure or burn up in a fireball?

Screenplay writer Taylor Sheridan’s 2015 film Sicario has a serious flaw: it’s told from the wrong perspective. As Sheridan is also the co-writer of the adapted screenplay and director for Those Who Wish Me Dead, the same glaring issue becomes even more obvious. While this problem didn’t sink Sicario, it torpedoes this new film by pushing Jolie’s part as the main character rather than Connor from the book. Instead of a ‘tween in witness protection learning woodland survival skills while evading “the infamous Blackwell Brothers,” filmgoers are stuck with survivor’s-guilt Hannah stealing Connor’s arc; the main character reveal is still in the unaltered title! Even without knowing any of this, the film feels hamstrung and with its heart ripped out, the last act hinting at a Die Hard-style denouement or sequel-informing revelation that never materializes as the film ends with a whimper.

Too many scenes feel like leftovers from a previous draft of the script, like one with Connor showing empathy to an old horse; what was the point? Viewers also never fully understand the relationship of the assassins, like why do they have the same last name in the credits? They act more like father and son than brothers, yet little is revealed about them other than business banter and nothing of being related. One scene shows Hoult seemingly taken aback about a victim he’s been instructed to kill, only to leverage it instead, as if the knowledge makes him a more efficient terminator (cue T2 theme). Perhaps bringing Jolie into the film prompted changes that ensured her participation, or maybe the idea of the kid as the lead (who appeared to be up to the challenge) didn’t fly with producers. In any case, the film that was isn’t the story that could have been, and it shows.

It isn’t a little something that’s missing but a lot, and too much to discount. What’s incidentally hilarious is how the reworked story mirrors the money shots and bullet points of Howie Long’s Firestorm, a disposable 1998 action flick attempting to jump-start a new career for the football star. Maybe Sheridan should have made scene-stealer Medina Senghore the main character of his rework… or at least consider a spin-off sequel written around her badassery. Until then, never seek refuge in a forestry service fire watchtower, because they must be replaced entirely if ever struck by lightning.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and for God’s sake, how many times do we have to tell you it wasn’t your fault, Hannah?

Two skull recommendation out of four

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