A teenage murder witness finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert tasked with protecting him — and a forest fire threatening to consume them all.

Cast:  Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jon Bernthal, Jake Weber, Tyler Perry

Directors: Taylor Sheridan
Writers: Michael Koryta (screenplay & based on the book by), Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan

Since penning Sicaro, Taylor Sheridan has built a filmography of neo-westerns, and Those Who Wish Me Dead fits the same bill as Hell or High Water and Wind River. The film is adapted by Michael Koryta, based upon his own novel, and features rugged, rough and wilderness-able characters. It’s the perfect Sheridan backdrop for him to have slid into the directors’ chair, but something is missing from Those Who Wish Me Dead.  

Hannah (Angelina Jolie) lives in a fire tower in the Montana wilderness. One afternoon she comes across Connor (Finn Little); the teenager is distraught, untrusting and covered in blood. Hot on the boys’ tail is two hitmen (Aidan Gillen & Nicholas Hoult) and the two hitmen start a fire in the forest to draw out the kid and distract local authorities. Stuck between gunfire and a blazing fire, Hannah has to fight to keep herself and Connor alive through the night. 

There are many set-ups before you get to the films big hoorah and finale that the trailers have all teased. We learn early in the movie that Hannah has PTSD following a horrific event that occurred during her last firefight. When Connor shows up, she sees him as a way to remedy all of the guilt that she’s carrying, and Connor is looking for, as his father put it, “somebody he can trust.” Just as Hannah is suffering through visions of her past, Connor rushes through the woods searching for help, and they come across one another at the perfect time. 

As a neo-western thriller, there’s little inspiration or much to be interested in here. Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult are wasted as the two emotionless hitmen, and Jolie is trying to make her character work travel miles when she’s only got minutes. The pacing is muddy and, at times, seems to lack proper direction. 

Like Hell or High Water and Wind River, the wilderness of Montanna stars in this production, just as much as the actors. In those films, the harshness of the environment around the characters only helped to back up the story being told. Here the Montanna forest and the all-powerful engulfing fire are the clear lead actors. 

The final horrific and beautiful sequence involving the fire was breathtaking, a stark reminder of how mother nature can give and take away in the blink of an eye. Another reason to be grateful for all the work firefighters do to save lives and property. The 2019-20 bushfires here in Australia are all I could think about as the credits began to roll. And so, in that respect, Those Who Wish Me Dead worked terrifically on one specific angle: the unbiased brutality of a raging bush fire being scarier than any hitmen. 

Watching Angelina Jolie in her first thriller for ten years is noteworthy on its own. I’m ready to get aboard the #JolierRenaissance over the next couple of years even if she felt wasted in this role.

Buried amongst the threat of assassins, you have a human tale of perseverance, remorse, guilt and loss. What works in Those Who Wish Me Dead is the relationship between Hannah and Connor. The bond they quickly form and their battle against the fire is far more exciting and thrilling than the fight for their lives against the two hitmen.