Those Who Wish Me Dead the next feature film by writer director Taylor Sheridan isn’t exactly up the level we’ve come to expect from him but it’s not necessarily a bad film either. Most of the issues that I have with Those Who Wish Me Dead all stem from the same place: the script written by Sheridan, Michael Koryta, & Charles Leavitt. That being said, the premise surrounding the film is intriguing enough to draw interest but most of it just ends up in smoke, not amounting to anything spectacular.
As Those Who Wish Me Dead progresses more questions pop up than the movie actually answers and by the time the credits roll, an unresolved feeling takes over. What should be addressed isn’t given a second thought to with loose ends ultimately not being tied together. It’s a rare bad day at the office for Sheridan since everything he puts his hands on turns to gold. Beyond the poorly planned script Those Who Wish Me Deadhas a lot to offer. Like his previous films and screenplays, the best aspect here are the characters that get caught up in the whirlwind of events.
Those Who Wish Me Dead surround’s smokejumpers in Montana which doesn’t matter to how the story unfolds. In fact, we only see jumps at the beginning of the film in stylized fragments as they freefall toward a fire and at the end of the film. Why was it necessary to write characters as smokejumpers is just one of the few questions that go unanswered. Regardless, the Montana wilderness setting gives the impression of a neo-western feel which Sheridan understands fully. Look at his previous work – He’s basically keeping the genre alive at this point.
Another mystery that comes from the screenplay revolves around Owen (Jake Weber) and his son Connor (Finn Little). Owen is a forensic accountant who’s in possession of information that could change the world. What that information is, it’s never made aware to the viewer, yet both are being hunted by Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick Blackwell (Nicholas Hoult) for reasons unknown. Normally in a Sheridan film the motivations of each character are presented to the audience but not here. There’s a glimpse of Jack and Patrick’s motive as to why they are hunting Owen and Connor when the two assassin’s meetup with their boss Arthur (Tyler Perry). No concrete information is given as to why Owen and Conner need to be stopped just that the two need to be killed before whatever they have on Arthur is leaked.
Conner is by far the strongest written character in Sheridan’s script followed closely behind by Hannah (Angelina Jolie). Both Hannah and Conner are the emotional core in Those Who Wish Me Dead. We get glimpses into Hannah’s past and her PTSD from fighting fires and making tough choices as a result. Jolie and Little have great chemistry together that jumps off the screen which makes it easy to form those emotional connections to their characters. With every tension filled scene their bond grows stronger as they defend themselves from the unrelenting Jack and Patrick.
Aidan Gillen plays the villain role so well – look at his face, he has a villains face and can play menacing so well (just look at what he did in Game of Thrones), but the clear standout here is Nicholas Hoult. He plays a surprisingly good villain here showing some range that wasn’t thought possible. Even when these two are wreaking havoc and starting a forest fire to distract the police their chemistry together is just as palpable as Connor and Hannah.
It’s entirely possible that part of the script issues could be the result of first-time screenwriter and author of the book of the same name which Those Who Wish Me Dead is based on Michael Koryta. Not every author makes a good screenwriter – luckily Sheridan is able to salvage some of the plot holes throughout.
What Sheridan does well with his films is how he builds tension with every scene that succeeds the previous one. The pacing is on the slower side here but that allows the characters to be more prominent in this particular story. Minor characters and the two villains aside, all are given enough time to be developed. Opposite Hannah and Conner is Ethan (John Bernthal) and his pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore) whom Owen and Conner are seeking refuge with. All that bottled up tension that has been steadily built boils over in the third act of the film leaving a satisfaction for how the story is concluded in that regard. From the panic induced opening scene to the final death the action is handled carefully – I just wish I knew why Sheridan likes to kill off Jon Bernthal’s characters.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is a good film for what it is but it’s not great. Script issues keep this film from being in the same conversation as Sheridan’s previous films. Plot holes and a sense of something missing aside Those Who Wish Me Dead has a ton of potential if it was utilized correctly. Characters, action, suspense and tension all shine here. Everyone has a bad day – let’s hope for Sheridan’s sake this is his only miss. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite directors.
Thoe Who Wish Me Dead is written by Taylor Sheridan, Michael Koryta, & Charles Leavitt, directed by Taylor Sheridan is Rated R and has an 62% on Rotten Tomatoes. Those Who Wish Me Dead was released on May 14, 2021 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 40 minutes. Those Who Wish Me Dead is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. 3 out of 5.