Directed By Taylor Sheridan
Starring – Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little
The Plot – A teenage murder witness (Little) finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert (Jolie) tasked with protecting him, and a forest fire threatening to consume them all.
Rated R for strong violence, and adult language throughout
– Lucid setting. This is illustrated fruitfully in both the concentrating cinematography from Ben Richardson, which supplants some long and nourishing grazes of scenery that supplants the isolation factor within the narrative, as well as atmospheric personality established in Sheridan’s own attention to detail. Similar to the way he fleshed out “Wind River” with a sense of community and circumstantial geography, so too does he with “Those Who Wish Me Dead”, only this time it’s the elements within the woods and nature that permeates to an immersive documentation of sight and smell that I nearly tasted accordingly. It isn’t quite to where I would say the setting itself is a character of its own within this movie, but the elements of the environment certainly help to maximize the tension, all the while articulating the pride and heart within this limited population that cements why they stick so close together against all adversities.
– Rampant action. In what is easily Sheridan’s most ambitious production to date, complete with suffocatingly fiery sequences of physical conflict, his masterful stroke leads to a couple of intense confrontations within the elements of nature itself, satisfying the 90’s action nut in all of us, who may or may not have grown up with Kurt Russell fighting fires in “Backdraft”. While that comparison is justified in terms of the obstacles of fire itself, it couldn’t be any more different within the context of an advantageous environment within itself that only elevates the odds and stakes of everything playing out before us. The all red color coordination is especially effective in triggering a condensing claustrophobia, but its Sheridan’s own amplification of the anxiety that pays off accordingly to the integrity of the sequences, bottling the urgency and vulnerability to its characters that kept me gripped during the movie’s key climaxes.
– Technical mastery. What is easily my single favorite element of production throughout the film is the captivating sound design within the realm of flames that vividly articulates the mass of its blanketing bulk. This not only grants presence to its incarnation at nearly all times throughout the film, but also serves as the primary ingredient to the movie’s immersive computer generation, giving us an inescapable inevitability that terrifically captures the frailty associated with such a career. Beyond that, the production associated with Sheridan brings with them once more a kinetic energy and echoing design to the barrage of firearm arsenal unleashed throughout the film. It’s one that can be praised alone for firing the actual weapons instead of using a series of repetitious sound emitting the same gun and shot, but what accentuates it all the more is the authenticity earned in the production’s placement of the microphone, zeroing in on a barrage of proximities that audibly cut down the distance between predator and prey.
– Safety in skillset. For my money, the computer-generation used amply throughout the progression of the film was some of the most consistently believable that I have seen in quite sometime. The designs of it is solid enough, permeating a spread that is slowly methodical yet immense in occupying mass, but it’s really the after effects of such that distinguish its design, and better helps to convey a believability that surrounds us. In particular, the combination of sprinkled ashes and tree color decay creates the most bang for the buck that safely but effectively triggers the boundaries within the environment, allowing for an experience that not only elevates the visual intensity of every frame, but also supplants a fantastical element of filmmaking that puts quite literally no one at risk along the way.
– Simple story. Part of what I admire about Sheridan’s works, as well as what pays off immensely for this setting is the ideal of big things created from small actions. This has been a lasting theme for Sheridan, but one that has been satisfyingly distinguished throughout a variety of films, making for an unforeseen antagonist to the characters that pits them inevitably in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is continued for “Those Who Wish Me Dead”, in this case with a fire that metaphorically and materially represents the regrets of each character in one way or another, persisting as the link to each of their pasts that they can’t escape as easily. There’s something I’ve always found entertaining about elements of a conflict coming down to nature that Sheridan seems to grasp the concept of, presenting it as the unforeseen karma in a bigger picture that rights the wrongs of everything previously established, which the setting conveys in a perfect storm of sorts.
– Too short. 92 minutes of allowance does more harm than good in the forms of pacing and overall storytelling that often feels consistently hindered with what’s needed. This is realized most especially in the flat characterization in the movie, which with the exception of Jon Bernthal and his on-screen wife (Played by Medina Senghore) speaks for everyone else in the film. This makes it especially difficult to wholeheartedly invest in any one character, but beyond that removes a boldness in personality from the performances that most of the film required, especially considering personality is such a major part of Sheridan’s other directoral efforts, like “Wind River” or “Hell or High Water”. It contorts the three act structure in ways that give too much to a side that doesn’t require it, and too little to a side that does, highlighting an often disjointed effect to the movie’s structure that continuously rushes the execution in a psychological game of chess between two sides.
– Disappointing performances. Part of this also attains to the lack of opportunity that stems from a script that is constantly on the run, but the bigger picture elicits itself from a series of difficult to believe casting choices that do the roles, nor the conflict, a favor in handling the anxiety when the environmental elements are off-screen. In this respect, Nicholas Hoult as one of two primary antagonists in the film is most disappointing, mainly in his grip on the unraveling of the character, which isn’t remotely menacing or shapeshifting for the heralded actor. On top of Hoult, Jolie’s blandness and stuffy personality made her character a bit of a bore to faithfully follow, only momentarily helped by a chemistry with Little that momentarily rebounds because of the latter’s precocious innocence. It often feels like the script wants to dive further into the backstory of her character, but instead remains at eye level with her exposition, giving us a one-dimensional outline to the character that makes the narrative all the more difficult to lose yourself in.
– Stretched logic. Considering Sheridan is a writer who I’ve always admired for the level of honesty and humanity that he affords to his characters and stories, I was quite disappointed to see the abundance of clever coincidences and utter ridiculousness that makes up a majority of the moving force behind this story. If you can ignore a trunk of cliches for the film that finds a comfort zone between Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, you will be met with the awkwardness of articulating how each of these characters are related, how the little boy just magically ends up there when his living arrangements were halfway across the country, a character who gets hit by lightning then walks it off without remote harm, and an overwhelming sense of PTSD for the protagonist that everyone else smothers with alcohol and more work along the way. In a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, this would be synthetically fine with what’s asked from it. However, its inclusion here tips its balance in the way of absurd that relegates it to being another one of the derivative bunch, making this feel like a contractual obligation to everyone involved.
– Motiveless. In not conveying to the audience what the secrets are that the kid knows, nor the weight of the stakes from them that hangs in the balance, it creates a disconnect to the conflict that keeps me from fully justifying whether the juice is worth the squeeze from both sides. This is especially disappointing when you consider how many times along the way this is brought up and alluded to, whether it be between father and son, or son and Jolie’s character. In a lesser film, you would expect that it would inevitably be leading to a third act reveal that opens the notebook full of secrets for us the audience, but while I appreciate that the film didn’t go this familiar route, it’s all the more confounding based on it being established as a plot device so early on. Chalk it up as another aspect that becomes shamefully humbled by the movie’s destructive pacing, but I find this in a league of its own for the way it ignores the prize, then makes it evidentially unnecessary from what materializes from it during the film’s ending. It’s nothing but a device to get the story moving, and the quicker you understand that, the less you can expect answers in a movie refusing to be bothered by them.
My Grade: 6/10 or C