There’s something refreshing about the simplicity of Those Who Wish Me Dead. This is not a franchise-starting vehicle. It’s not a remake, nor is it based on a comic book, or an old TV show (it is adapted from a novel, though). It’s just a simple damn story that goes from point A to point B. That doesn’t mean it’s very good, mind you. But in this age when everything feels prepackaged and focus-grouped out the wazoo, something as plain as this is like a breath of fresh air. The heroes are good, the villains are bad, and the script is lean. Almost too lean.
As our story begins we meet Hannah Faber, played with the right amount of swagger and sadness by Angelina Jolie. Hannah is a smokejumper, which means she’s a firefighter crazy enough to parachute into forest fires. But Hannah is haunted, and we know this because she keeps waking up from bad nightmares in which one of her smokejumper missions goes wrong. A bad psych evaluation has grounded her, and instead of doing what she loves – you know, jumping out of planes into fires – she’s stuck in a fire lookout tower in the middle of the mountains.
The early introductory moments where Hannah hangs around with her fellow smokejumpers and shoots the shit are a bit rough, and I don’t mean because the firefighters are a little uncouth. The dialogue is meant to be easy-going and funny, but it grows cringeworthy very fast – there’s even a “That’s what she said!” joke, and, come on, let’s all agree to retire that one, shall we? Thankfully, after this clumsy intro, Those Who Wish Me Dead kicks into gear and just keeps plowing ahead, determined to get to its ending without much fuss.
There’s a pair of highly-trained assassins, played by Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen, and they’ve been hired by some shady, unspecified government agency to kill a whistleblower, played by Jake Weber. Weber’s character catches wind that the killers are coming his way, so he grabs his son Connor (Finn Little) and hightails it into the wilderness. But the assassins don’t give up easily, and they catch up with father and son rather quickly. This leads to violent tragedy, and Connor is left on his own, running for his life through the woods.
You can see where this is going: Connor and Hannah are going to meet up, and Hannah is going to do everything she can to protect Connor from the killers. Screenwriters Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, and Taylor Sheridan – who was called in for rewrites and ended up directing the movie in the process – realize that they need a little more meat than that, so they have the killers deliberately set the forest on fire just to make things worse. Now, Hannah and Connor have to dodge both armed killers and a blazing inferno. Also caught up in the mix: a local cop, played by Jon Bernthal, who is both Connor’s uncle and Hannah’s friend, and the cop’s very pregnant wife (Medina Senghore).
And that’s it, really! There’s a little more here and there, but Those Who Wish Me Dead more or less sets up its very simple plot – good guys run from bad guys during a forest fire – and runs with it. It’s like a ’90s throwback thriller; the type of movie that used to get rerun on TBS or TNT or some other network that starts with a T. Had this come out back then it probably would’ve starred John Travolta or Nicolas Cage, or maybe even Jean-Claude Van Damme, as the smokejumper turned child protector. Here, we get Jolie, and she’s more than up to the task. The film beats her up pretty badly, but we always believe it when she gets back up again, a little bloodied but still persevering. She has a nice rapport with Little, too, which helps their scenes together.
Hoult and Gillen are memorable, too, as the cold-blooded killers who won’t give up, no matter what, like a pair of well-dressed Terminators. There’s a chilling proficiency in the way they calmly murder anyone who gets in their way. It makes them despicable – we love to hate them, and we love it when Jolie and others get the drop on them and make them bleed.
This simplicity works in Those Who Wish Me Dead‘s favor for only so long. After a while, the film becomes so slight that it begins to feel a touch pointless. Were it just slightly more entertaining we might have something special on our hands. As it is, we have a sturdy, mercifully swift action pic that fizzles out instead of burning bright. It’s nice to have a movie as simple as this for a change, but it would be nicer if it were better.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
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