[Screen It]


(2021) (Angelina Jolie, Finn Little) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: Haunted by the guilt of a recent tragedy, a smokejumper ends up having to protect an orphaned boy from assassins who killed his father and now want him dead as well.

Hannah (ANGELINA JOLIE) is a Montana smoke jumper who's still reeling from a recent wildfire related tragedy for which she blames herself, much to the concern of her ex-boyfriend, Ethan (JON BERNTHAL), the local deputy who's now married to Allison (MEDINA SENGHORE) who's carrying their child. Whether it's her nature or her way of dealing with that tragedy, Hannah often acts recklessly, making her appear to be a highly unlikely candidate to keep anyone safe.

But that's exactly what she must do when she comes across 12-year-old Connor (FINN LITTLE) whose dad, Owen (JAKE WEBER), a forensic auditor for the Florida Attorney General, has just been murdered by professional assassins Jack (AIDAN GILLEN) and Patrick (NICHOLAS HOULT). They now need the boy to die as well, what with him somehow surviving the attack on his father.

With those assassins setting a wildfire to serve as a distraction, they set out to find and kill the boy, all while Hannah does what she can to keep him safe, both from those men and the fire that's growing and coming their way.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I have great admiration for all the first responders of the world who rush into dire, dangerous, and deadly situations when every other soul is headed the other way trying to get to safety. That's particularly true of firefighters who must ignore every hardwired instinct in their bodies as they head into infernos, be those occurring in buildings or out in forests.

Rightfully so, soldiers and other military personnel who've seen combat thankfully now get the sort of PTSD help they rightfully deserve, but I wonder if that's also equally true for first responders.

After all, they routinely witness awful things as well, with firefighters, in particular, seeing gruesome things and like their brethren who give it their all, they must also contend with the real possibility that they might not be able to save everyone, resulting in all sorts of "what if I had" guilt.

That's the background premise for "Those Who Wish Me Dead," writer/director Taylor Sheridan's latest dramatic thriller that he penned with Charles Leavitt and Michael Koryta, based on the latter's novel of the same name. That might seem like an odd title for a movie about firefighters -- and smokejumpers in particular here -- but it's not any of those first responders, at least at first, who find themselves on the wrong end of a weapon.

Instead, it's Connor (Finn Little), a 12-year-old boy who ends up on the run with his dad (Jake Weber) who's unearthed some damning facts about powerful government figures while doing his forensic auditor job for the Florida Attorney General.

Fully realizing the dynamite he's dug up and hearing on the news about his boss' house being obliterated by an alleged accidental gas explosion, Owen calls an audible right before dropping Conner off at school and heads for the one place he thinks might be safe -- the Soda Butte Survival School in the remote wilderness of Montana.

That's where his late wife's brother, Ethan (Jon Bernthal), works as a deputy for the sheriff's department and is expecting his first child with his wife, Allison (Medina Senghore). And he just so happens to be the ex-boyfriend to smokejumper Hannah (Angelina Jolie) whose wild and reckless, "just one of the boys" behavior seems to be her coping mechanism for a past tragedy for which she feels solely responsible.

She gets her chance at redemption when the two hired assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) figure out that's where Owen and his boy are headed and somehow botch killing the latter. He ends up running into Hannah whose mothering instincts kick in -- especially as related to the pivotal past incident -- and it's then up to the momma bear to protect the orphaned cub from the predators as well as the wildfire they intentionally set as a diversion.

Clearly not novel -- notwithstanding the unusual combination of uber-familiar elements involving firefighters, hitmen, a child needing help, and the unlikely and troubled adult who ends up battling present demons along with past ones -- the film is also a bit of a let-down considering the filmmaker's pedigree when it comes to his scripts (that include "Hell or High Water," "Sicario," "Wind River" and the TV show "Yellowstone").

While it's not bad by any means, it -- just like this year's Tom Clancy adaptation, "Without Remorse" -- is lacking the top-notch plotting, characters, and dialogue at which Sheridan usually excels. It still works in what it's trying to be and do, and those longing for a personal redemption flick where the bad guys also get what's coming to them, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" should fit the bill. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 10, 2021 / Posted May 14, 2021

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