Writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s fascination for characters caught in high-pressure situations at remote locales, continues with his latest film, Those Who Wish Me Dead (TWWMD).
It’s a film cut out of the same cloth as Hell or High Water or Wind River, in that the events, much like in those films, are confined to the American frontier. As in his films, Sicario and Wind River, TWWMD too is spearheaded by a female protagonist navigating a world dominated mostly by men.
Angelina Jolie plays Hannah, a smokejumper hampered by psychological trauma caused by her inability to save a family during a raging wildfire.
The memories haunt her, but not in a way that disrupts her faculties. She is one of the boys, hanging out with them and cracking jokes. She is also a bit of a daredevil, which some, like her ex-boyfriend and now the town sheriff, Ethan (Jon Bernthal), assume is a symptom of her self-destructive tendencies.
You sense the tension in their relationship, but Ethan means well. Now happily married to Allison (Medina Senghore), he is an expectant father who puts his, as well as his wife’s, life in danger when they cross paths with two ruthless killers, Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult).
TWWMD is essentially Taylor Sheridan’s reworking of a familiar story idea: Protagonist protects child from evil. Imagine Angelina Jolie in place of Harrison Ford’s character from Witness and add a forest fire in the end to heat things up, literally.
Australian actor Finn Little plays the little boy who takes a while to trust Hannah. I liked how Sheridan takes some time to flesh out the warmth of the father-son bond in this film, and how he conjures anxiety in a limited amount of time.
The killers seem like modern-day reproductions of the bad guys from the Ernest Hemingway short story, The Killers, that has, of course, been adapted for the big screen multiple times.
Despite having two accomplished actors, the killers’ personalities don’t stand out as they should. But Sheridan manages to mine some occasional dark humour, like when Jack’s repeated expressions of hatred for the town. We also get an unlikely female hero in the form of Allison, who does not let her pregnancy come in the way of her derring-do.
Her confrontation with the twins is easily the highest moment of tension in the film. Mainly on account of its predictability, TWWMD is not quite among Sheridan’s best films. Perhaps it’s the burden of expectation too, given that this man was behind films like Sicario and Hell or High Water.
Perhaps the burden of direction takes away from his apparently superior abilities as a writer. TWWMD’s biggest achievement is that it serves as an example of minimalist filmmaking for the post-pandemic world, even though it completed filming way before the crisis began.
Movie: Those Who Wish Me Dead
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Nicholas Hoult, Aiden Gillen, Medina Senghore
Streaming on: BookMyShow Stream