It would be an understatement to say that Angelina Jolie is put through the wringer in writer-director Taylor Sheridan's new film "Those Who Wish Me Dead."
In just 100 minutes, she is beaten and bruised by nature, men and even some of her own choices — like a crazy stunt involving a parachute and a pickup truck. Jolie has always thrown herself into physically demanding roles, but her Montana firefighter Hannah Farber may take the cake for most cuts and shiners sustained in 24 hours. This is a film in which she's running from hitmen, raging forest fires and past traumas. Apparently her face and body are the physical representation of that. Even so, it's always a pleasure to see her back on screen, which has become rarer and rarer lately.
"Those Who Wish Me Dead" was adapted from a novel about Connor, a 12-year-old boy on the run from a pair of assassins who killed his dad. Screenplay credits go to the author Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt ("Blood Diamond") and Sheridan, who seems to be cornering the market on bleak and bloody Western thrillers. Sheridan wrote the screenplays for "Sicario," "Hell or High Water" and "Wind River," which he also directed.
This outing is not quite as grim as "Wind River" but it's still very much in that vein. And like his folksy-poetic dialogue or not, he knows how keep a film moving and give his actors juicy moments to chew on. (It should be no surprise that he too cut his teeth acting). He's populated this film with solid talent including Jon Bernthal as a local sheriff, and Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult as the hitmen. Finn Little, who plays Connor, can turn on the waterworks and internalized trauma as effectively as Jolie.
The film is a little scant on key details — the whole chase is set off by Connor's dad discovering some criminal conspiracy big enough to warrant blowing up the district attorney's home (yes, with the family inside). But because there was only one team sent to kill off the two people with knowledge of the conspiracy, Connor and his dad get a few days' head start to drive from their Florida home to Montana to seek help from his brother-in-law sheriff (Bernthal).
Jolie's Hannah meanwhile has been relegated to tower duty after she failed to save three boys in the woods during a massive fire. It might be a bit of a stretch, but she sells it with her steely gaze and cool swagger. Yes there probably aren't many firefighters who look like Jolie, but there also aren't many people who look like Jolie. At least here everyone acknowledges her otherworldly beauty. And she gets her chance to help another young boy when she spots Connor running through the woods.
"Those Who Wish Me Dead" doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. There are too many threads left dangling and characters left unexplored, including Hannah herself. We get to see her as one-of-the-boys at the beginning with as much ego as a test pilot and a few flashbacks to the tragedy that seems to define her, but otherwise she's an enigma. Some of the forest fires are also distractingly digital. And yet, it's an effective and watchable chase film that keeps you on the edge of your seat enough to make it worthwhile. And it's a great breakout role for Medina Senghore, who gets to play a kick butt survival expert who's also six months pregnant. It's just not a film you're going to be thinking much about five minutes after it ends.
"Those Who Wish Me Dead," a Warner Bros. release in theaters and on HBO Max, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for, "strong violence and language throughout." Running time: 100 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.