There are some things you know are coming with a Taylor Sheridan project. At the same time, he’s become a filmmaker who seems capable of tackling just about anything. Whereas some movies he writes tend to be more action based (excluding his Academy Award-nominated Hell or High Water), his prior directorial outing dove more into character and mystery. Here, with his latest effort behind the camera, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Sheridan tries to split the difference. It’s an action-thriller, but one that hopefully invests you in its central characters. Despite a sense that he’s capable of elevating things to even higher fields, he definitely succeeds. The initial Oscar buzz was off the mark, but this is still a rather good film.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is a throwback to the sort of thing that the 90s would churn out fairly often. Luckily, it’s a pretty strong version of that type of flick. Having a female protagonist separates it a bit, even if Sheridan doesn’t particularly explore that as much as he could. Mostly, you’re watching tough individuals try to survive. It’s macho and simple, but done with enough nuance to be very engaging.
Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is an expert smoker jumper still kicking herself after a mistake ended up costing lives. As a form of penance, she plans to spend some time in a Montana watchtower, indulging in solitude. Things aren’t going to work out that way. Down in Florida, assassins Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) have killed a DA planning to go public with something very bad for their boss (Tyler Perry). The next to go is forensic accountant Owen (Jake Weber), though he packs up his son Conner (Finn Little) and leaves town beforehand, headed towards Montana.
Calling up his brother in law Ethan (Jon Bernthal), who happens to also have a past with Hannah, Owen hopes to outrun the inevitable. He doesn’t make it far, leaving Conner to try and survive on his own. Needing to tie up that loose end, the assassins set a fire for distraction in the small town. When Conner runs into Hannah, however, he gains a valuable ally in his fight for survival.
Angelina Jolie hasn’t gotten to play someone like this in some time. She’s a strong lead, though one with a damaged psyche. Mostly, she showcases both the hard exterior and the complicated interior that Hannah has. It’s a role she should ace, and she does. The supporting cast are all solid, if somewhat unremarkable. If there’s a small-scale standout, it’s Medina Senghore as Ethan’s pregnant wife. She’s not in a lot, but you take notice of her whenever she’s there.
Taylor Sheridan continues to show here that he’s a solid director. Co-writing with Charles Leavitt and Michael Koryta (who wrote the book it’s based on), the script isn’t quite as sharp as usual, but his direction is on point. Leavitt, Koryta, and Sheridan give you a bit about the characters, but you definitely want more. At the same time, Sheridan keeps things moving in a way that doesn’t make the writing stick out as a major issue. The cinematography from Ben Richardson is lush and really accentuates the beauty/danger of fire, while Brian Tyler‘s score is suitably menacing. The combination works to keep you well invested in the outcome.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is rock solid, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. While it won’t win any awards and arguably is less ambitious than Wind River was, it showcases more evidence that Taylor Sheridan is a real talent. If you’ve enjoyed his work in the past, you’re almost guaranteed to like this one as well. Whether it’s in theaters or on HBO Max, this is well worth seeing.