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Those Who Wish Me Dead is a lean, mean action flick

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Co-writer Taylor Sheridan (Hell or Highwater, Wind River) directs this action thriller based on Michael Koryta's novel about teenage murder witness Connor Casserly (Finn Little), who's pursued by two assassins—Jack Blackwell (Aidan Gillen) and his son, Patrick (Nicholas Hoult)—into the wilderness, where Connor meets Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie), a veteran smokejumper and survival expert suffering from PTSD. Can she protect the boy from the assassins and the raging forest fire they started? (100 min.)

FIRED UP Former smokejumper Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) argues with her ex, Deputy Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal), in Those Who Wish Me Dead, screening at most local theaters and on HBO Max. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRON STUDIOS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Bron Studios
  • FIRED UP Former smokejumper Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) argues with her ex, Deputy Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal), in Those Who Wish Me Dead, screening at most local theaters and on HBO Max.

Glen I'm a big fan of Taylor Sheridan. He really knows how to write macho stories. His first screenplay was Sicario (2015), after all, and he also created the Kevin Costner neo-Western TV series Yellowstone. I still think his best work is Wind River (2017), but this lean, mean action thriller is very compelling. The Blackwells are efficient and remorseless assassins, and they're unworried about collateral damage. The story also features Ethan Sawyer (an always dependable Jon Bernthal), local law enforcement and also Hannah's ex, who's now married to Allison (Medina Senghore), pregnant with their first child. When killers are willing to take out a pregnant woman, you know just how ruthless they are. Hannah, Ethan, and Allison, however, are all capable, and the cat-and-mouse game they play amid the growing forest fire is gripping. Pregnant Allison is especially tenacious, and Hannah's PTSD ups the emotional ante—she holds herself responsible for some earlier fire deaths when she "read the wind wrong." This is a propulsive and violent story, and it's also Jolie's first action flick since Salt (2010). She's up to the ass-kicking task as long as you can get past her anorexic physique.

Anna Jolie may not seem like the obvious choice for a smokejumper, but it was her collaboration that made Sheridan take on this project after another director dropped out, and he made a good call here. Her body of work shows that she can kick ass and look good doing it, and Those Who Wish Me Dead holds steady in that department. It's always high stakes when a kid gets involved, and Little holds his own as her bad-guy-dodging companion. I love Bernthal in all he does; he's such a reliable actor, melding into his character so naturally. This one had me gasping, holding my breath, whispering "nonononono" as the cat-and-mouse game played out. Well done, cast and crew! The father-son team is so diabolical and sinister, they make for great villains you can't wait to see the hammer of justice come down on. Quite honestly I didn't know much about this film going into it, and I was sort of expecting a run-of-the-mill action flick, which in some ways it is, but in other ways it's elevated. I felt compelled to watch and not check out halfway through and start scrolling my phone—the fate of many action flicks when I'm at home watching. This isn't my favorite work from Sheridan, but it's still solid just the same. Definitely worth checking out when you need to feel a bit of adrenaline running through your blood.

Glen We have HBO Max, so we watched it at home, but I imagine it's even more powerful on the big screen. The New Mexico locations and wilderness were gorgeous, and cinematographer Ben Richardson (Mare of Easttown, Yellowstone, Wind River, Beasts of the Southern Wild) did an incredible job capturing it. If we didn't already pay for HBO, I would have ponied up the dough to watch this in a theater. It's not going to win any awards, and it's a pretty standard-issue action story that apparently deviates considerably from the novel it's based upon, but Sheridan's direction keeps things moving fast. There's no time to get bored. With solid performances from all involved and interesting, well-crafted characters, I'd say this is worth matinee prices unless you're an action film fan or an Angelina Jolie junkie, in which case, pay full price. It will be worth it to you.

Anna Yep, this would be a fun one in the theater—even easier to get absorbed in the fiery cinematography. It definitely doesn't stray far from being a standard action flick, but it isn't a bad one. Storyline-wise, it falls in pretty familiar territory, but the landscape and the tight cast add a lot to what could have been just plain ordinary. Like you said, this one isn't in the cards to win awards, but it does the job it sets out to do—keeps the audience engaged and rooting for the good guys to win. With a real case of quarantine boredom and lack of new content, I'll take as many decent movies as I can get. This is an easy choice if you already subscribe to HBO Max, but if you want that full experience, go buy some popcorn and check this out on the big screen. It's worth the price of a matinee to see all of these players at work. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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