Those Who Wish Me Dead (3 stars)

Angelina Jolie heads up this wilderness-set actioner from director Taylor Sheridan

With his flair for macho, darkly humorous dialogue, as a screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has often come up trumps (Sicario, Hell or High Water), although when he's added himself to the mix as director – for example here and in Wind River – the results can be slightly less assured. Those Who Wish Me Dead begins a little clumsily and takes a while to wrap your head around. It pits Angelina Jolie's traumatised, wild woman firefighter Hannah against a pair of seasoned assassins (played by Aidan Gillen and, erm, Nicholas Hoult), who are hunting down whistle-blowers set to expose wide-reaching financial corruption.

We don't get any information on said corruption, beyond the fact that it involves people so important and / or dangerous that the hitmen are seen firebombing the house of a district attorney early on. Now they're after forensic accountant Owen (Jake Weber) and his young son Connor (Finn Little), who also know too much. The lack of further detail is one of many unsatisfactory elements in a very cursorily drawn narrative and the characterisations aren't much better. But, as Gillen gets predictably trigger happy, the film adds woodland blazes to gun-battles and throws in a spot of high-stakes hide and seek, making things absurdly exciting. Meanwhile, its enjoyably subversive and sometimes sassy attitude means it's a real grower.

When Jolie's jaded and impetuous former smokejumper (now manning a fire tower) teams up with Connor, it's touching and wryly amusing (their one-upmanship with their sad campfire backstories strikes a novel note). Jolie's performance is on the more self-conscious side of her repertoire but she's plenty charismatic and physically capable, and blending her action heroine and earth mother personas works well. Gillen is suitably detestable and Jon Bernthal is a welcome addition as a Sheriff's Deputy – though Medina Senghore overshadows him as his bad-ass pregnant wife. Hoult, on the other hand, never really justifies the fact that he's been cast dramatically against type, making a very bland bad guy. Fleshing things out would have improved the film immeasurably, but given the bare-bones, sometimes pretty bonkers story it ends up being a lot of fun indeed.

Available to watch in cinemas from Mon 17 May.

Those Who Wish Me Dead

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • Canada / US
  • 1h 40min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
  • Written by: Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan, Michael Koryta
  • Cast: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little
  • UK release: 17 May 2021

A survival expert takes under his wing a teenage murder witness. But then a forest fire threatens them both.