Perhaps the best thing about HBO’s decision to stream theatrical films this year on HBO Max the same time they appear in theaters is that it allows my girlfriend and I the ability to see new films we’re on the fence about, without committing upwards of $20-$30 to see them in a traditional theater setting. Taylor Sheridan’s “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is one such film we probably would have passed on had we been restricted to seeing it in theaters only.
The film focuses on smokejumper Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie), who is stationed in a fire lookout tower in Park County, Montana, after previously failing to save some of her comrades and innocents during a nasty forest fire, in which incorrect information she passed on about which direction the wind was going contributed to their deaths. Despite the deaths literally not being her fault, she blames herself for them, and she at times does act incredibly reckless, even getting herself arrested by her ex-boyfriend, Deputy Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal), early in the film.
Alongside Hannah’s story is Connor Casserly’s (Finn Little), whose father, Owen (Jake Weber), is a forensic accountant who learns that, instead of dying due to a gas explosion, his boss and his family was murdered by the assassins Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick Blackwell (Nicholas Hoult) — two characters I think were intended to be written as cool, cold and threatening, but come off as a pair of bumbling idiots whose incompetence lead to their downfall.
Mild spoilers, but the Blackwells kill Owen in the woods, who instructs Connor to follow a stream to safety with his dying breaths, but not before the pair unnecessarily kill another bystander, because they’re just that bad at their jobs. To cover up Owen’s death, rather than hide the body and his vehicle like any rational assassin might do, they decide to start a massive forest fire, which of course would only bring more attention to their assassination. And it makes little to no sense, as the film’s plot centers around how an explosion was not enough to hide the forensic evidence of their first set of murders — it stands to reason that, even if the destroyed most of Owen’s body, an experienced forensic professional just like him could clearly find evidence (perhaps in the way his bones were fractured) that his cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, which is just about as much information Owen had on the murder of his boss.
Connor eventually finds Hannah, who protects them, while the Blackwells make an even larger mistake, going after Ethan’s wife, Allison (Medina Senghore), a pregnant survivalist who is more than capable of holding her own, and she does, as she manages to burn Jack’s face before she escapes with a hunting rifle. Allison is the best character in this film by far, and it’s great to see Jack and Patrick get their comeuppance, but I do have to seriously question their decision to go after her at all. Going after a Deputy Sheriff’s wife to get information you could probably get by other means seams like the stupidest decision you could make in their position, given that they just killed a man, have previous murders they didn’t cover up too well, and they are responsible for starting a massive forest fire I have no doubts could easily be traced back to them.
Hard spoilers ahead
And when you think that their decisions can’t get any worse, Ethan and his boss, the Sheriff (Boots Southerland) respond to a distress call by Allison, putting them in direct conflict with them, and they decide to, rather than try to employ some manner of stealth and get away, they shoot the sheriff in the head, and kidnap Ethan. At this point, even if they had been successful in killing everyone in the film, they’d have a national manhunt after them. The film of course ends with a somewhat happy ending, but it feels a little unearned, as our heroes win not by their own ingenuity, but because the Blackwells make irrational, idiotic mistakes any rational person would take advantage of, from needlessly wasting ammo when our heroes are taking cover and they clearly have no shot — which comedically leads to a scene in which Jack dies because his semiautomatic gun runs out of ammo, when Allison’s hunting rifle has just enough to kill him — to a scene where Patrick literally turns his back to Hannah, who predictably kills him.
Hard spoilers end
If you want to read the spoilers section above, but haven’t seen the film, I think you’re safe to go ahead and do it. It’s not going to make the film any more or less enjoyable.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is a bad movie I encourage you to not waste your money on. I think it’s fine to watch it on streaming through HBO Max, but it’s not worthy of the theatrical experience. The script lacks a compelling plot, with its characters given either wooden or generic dialogue, and what breaks this film is, at its core, the film’s antagonists are less clever and less remarkable than even Harry and Marv from “Home Alone,” and its protagonists are only slightly better — and no one is likeable.
Visually, it looks mostly ugly, with its use of CGI for fire looking particularly bad, and it was clear that the director really had no idea where and when fire would appear in her shots — there’s a really embarrassing scene at the end where Patrick Blackwell is shining a firearm flashlight directly into the maw of the fire, suggesting a huge disconnect between Sheridan and her DP; those CGI flames were so bright, he might as well have shined his flashlight into the sun! And whenever we get a close shot of the fire, it really looks like a video game, as it looks out of place and fake. The rest of the film’s shots looks flat and boring.
This film premiered in May, but during a normal year, it would be best suited premiering during the movie wasteland that is usually January. I guess as theaters are just starting to reopen fully, May is the new January.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” gets a 4/10