It’s been an interesting decade for one of the world’s most famous stars. Angelina Jolie has arguably enjoyed a profile higher than most actors this century, but celebrity hasn’t always translated into box office. After being one of the big draws of the 2000s, her live action output in the 2010s has garnered mixed results – Salt, The Tourist, and Maleficent proved her to be a draw, but as the decade went on the failures of By The Sea and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil showed signs of a star on the wane. Can action-thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead kick off some positive momentum before she enters the Marvel Universe with November’s Eternals?
The Oscar winner plays Hannah, a Montana-based smokejumper (firefighters who parachute into the sites of forest fires) haunted by a lapse in judgement that cost lives on a previous mission. Grounded by her superiors, she finds herself in the line of fire when she comes across Connor (Finn Little), a young man on the run after his father is killed for learning about a violent corporate cover-up. To evade two cold blooded assassins on their tail (Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult), Hannah must call upon her strength and knowledge to keep Connor and herself alive.
With the rolling hills and daring rescues, Wind River director Taylor Sheridan once again delivers a film that reminds us another time. The storytelling and pace are reminiscent of 90s action thrillers, with more than a passing resemblance to Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger. After a first act heavy with exposition, it’s more or less a straight chase through the woods with Hannah’s colleague/ex Ethan (John Bernthal) facing off against the villains as Jolie and Little form a charmingly gruff bond. There’s a lot of shooting and fire, but while it lacks subtlety there is something thrilling in its cat-and-mouse format.
Over the years, Jolie’s celebrity has made it hard for audiences to take her seriously as everyday characters. This obviously doesn’t matter with Maleficent, or in her impressive work behind the camera, but her introduction here as one of the gang, bantering with her colleagues, feels a little bit off. As a steely hero, however, she fits right in as she faces down impossible odds to keep her young charge safe, with the pair’s foul mouthed back and forth giving texture to what might have been a slight relationship.
Gillen has played the ruthless bad guy numerous times, and knows exactly what is expected of him as he threatens everyone with terrifying consequences. Hoult makes for an interesting sidekick, with the normally likeable star quite chilling as a man who dispatches people in unsettlingly efficient ways. Bernthal has always had charisma on-screen, and it’s a pleasure to watch him and his on-screen wife (Medina Senghore) try to outwit Gillen and Hoult, even if this supporting role feels somewhat beneath his talents.
Skipping along to a high-octane conclusion, Those Who Wish Me Dead is an easy watch for those who love an old school action-thriller. While it is far from complex, well cast roles and a knack for getting the small things right make it an enjoyable ride.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is in cinemas now.