In Those Who Wish Me Dead, Taylor Sheridan delivers another knockout action film in the vein of Steven Segal pictures from the 1990s that’s terribly nonsensical but oh-so-much fun.
It’s no secret that I’m a major fan of Taylor Sheridan’s work, especially in the action genre. He’s one of the few action screenwriters/filmmakers that brought new life to the genre by modernizing classic Western tropes by applying it to 21st century situations. It’s incredibly apparent in his “directorial debut” (he made a film in 2011 called Vile, but Sheridan himself does not consider it to be his directorial debut), Wind River, during the final guns-a-blazing firefight between the security crew and police officers. It’s a sequence you’d likely see in a John Ford western, where a standoff would culminate in a firefight, finally paying off the slow build up to a highly cathartic moment for the audience member, who becomes extremely satisfied to have watched the movie during the end credits.
It’s also increasingly apparent during the action sequences of his latest film, Those Who Wish Me Dead, in which Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie), a smokejumper who gets reassigned in a Fire lookout tower, must protect Connor Casserly (Finn Little) after his father (Jake Weber) is assassinated by two contract killers (Aidan Gillen & Nicholas Hoult), who are looking to tie up [unclear] loose ends regarding Connor’s father and his line of work. Whilst the motivations of the assassins are never explained, feeling as if Taylor Sheridan depicts some random event inside Hannah’s life, Those Who Wish Me Dead is still an insanely fun midnight madness picture that never asks its audience to think too much about its plot and just enjoy how damn fun it is to be back at the movies again.
If you can (safely) go to the theater to see this, I couldn’t think of a better way to go back (with a double feature of Spiral in IMAX for good measure). It feels specifically designed to be fully experienced on the biggest screen imaginable with a somewhat rowdy crowd who are having the time of their lives. Think of the *gasp* moment (probably) everyone had when Captain America held Mjolnir for the first time in Avengers: Endgame, and crank it up to 11 in a film whose action is a hybrid mix of First Blood and Hell or High Water (hell yes, Taylor Sheridan riffing himself!), featuring sprinkles of Steven Segal’s greatest hits, from a (tad) bit of Fire Down Below, On Deadly Ground and Marked for Death. All of these Segal pictures threw competency in script out of the window and delivered a mindless actioner, filled with insanely choreographed action sequences and protagonists who, regardless of their present situation, kick major ass.
Every character in Those Who Wish Me Dead look cool as heck and do, indeed, kick major ass. The assassins, in particular, wear the most dapper-looking suits and/or tight sport outfits before viciously murdering people in cold blood, and it all looks terribly pleasurable. Even the death of Connor’s father is fueled with major testosterone and adrenaline: Aidan Gillen’s Jack takes his machine gun in the smoothest movement possible, whereas Nicholas Hoult’s Patrick shoots the car’s tires with extreme rhythm. The cathartic release you get once Jack gets accidentally hit by the car is insane, and it’s but one of a plethora of moments in which a theatergoing audience would completely erupt, gasp and/or go completely nuts.
I don’t want to spoil anything else regarding that, I’ve already said too much, but making every single character (even the film’s most minor ones, including Tyler Perry, who appears in one 5-minute scene) feel terribly important amplifies to your emotional involvement during the film’s action setpieces. All of them are terrifically shot and rhythmically choreographed through the film’s editing, to complement its blissful cinematography from Ben Richardson and the actors’ kinetic movements inside the frame. They’re as good, if not a tad better, than Sheridan’s previous script, Without Remorse (which came out last month on Amazon Prime Video and adds to Sheridan’s extensive resumé of terrific action flicks). Without Remorse’s action was more tactile, whereas Those Who Wish Me Dead puts the emphasis on grand spectacle with plenty of highly cathartic moments that are best felt on the big (big) screen.
Angelina Jolie also returns to her action roots, with her best performance since starring in Phillip Noyce’ Salt. She has great chemistry with Finn Little’s Connor, even if most of their bonding happens on-screen. Whatever we see as terribly cheesy dialogue, that was most likely written in the mid-1990s where major actioners were at a highpoint. It’s superbly reminiscent of Steven Segal films, the lines are robotically delivered by the actors and feel as if they were written by someone who doesn’t even understand basic human interactions, but it doesn’t entirely matter when your brain shuts off during 80% of the runtime, where it’s solely comprised of adrenaline-fueled action sequences. Jolie, Little Jon Bernthal and Medina Senghore are the only actors who infuse some sort of humanity in their performances, while the lines they churn out are sloppily written. Bernthal has one terrific monologue, whilst confronting the Blackwell brothers (Hoult & Gillen), knowing he will get killed, where Senghore shares the film’s best action scene, kicking major ass in more ways than one.
Once you get past the film’s shoddy script, with underdeveloped character arcs, missing antagonist motivations (we only know they’re contract killers who work for Tyler Perry, but we have no idea why or what Perry is doing in this—he’s probably part of a sub-secret government organization or something along those lines that you’ll likely find in a Cannon Group action film starring Chuck Norris and/or Charles Bronson) and, at times, messy editing, turn your brain off (maybe consume an edible or two…why not!) and embark on a ferociously loud and testosterone-fueled actioner that only Taylor Sheridan would ever dare craft in this day and age for the big screen. Those Who Wish Me Dead may not be a perfect movie, but it’s undoubtedly the perfect way to return to the big screen (if done safely and/or if you are vaccinated) after almost a year without any adrenaline-driven blockbusters. Get your shot and experience the film on the largest screen you can find. You won’t regret it.
Those Who Wish Me Dead was released on Friday, May 14 and is now available to watch in theaters and on Max.