In Those Who Wish Me Dead, Hollywood’s latest piece of auteur thriller cinema, Angelina Jolie portrays an existentially depressed smokejumper—a particular type of firefighter specializing in first-response to wildfires—who is deemed too traumatized by an incident in which she witnessed three people die to continue performing her duties. Rather than being sent back out in the field, the Deputy Sheriff of the Montana forest (?) where she works sends her out to a middle-of-nowhere lookout tower where she will post up alone with her thoughts, and monitor whether any wildfires start. There is little to no cell phone service at this tower. The Deputy Sheriff, who is also Jolie’s character’s ex-boyfriend and a survivalist, is played by Jon Bernthal, best known (to me) as Shane from The Walking Dead.
OK, but rather than a prosaic drama about the wide-open wilderness and coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, there’s a B-plot here which involves a widowed forensic accountant (played by Jake Weber, best known—to me—as the dad from Medium) who realizes that a mobster he’s been investigating wants to murder him for his findings, so he takes his tween son out of school and goes on the lam, driving hundreds of miles to—you guessed it—Montana, because Deputy Sheriff Shane from the Walking Dead is Medium dad’s brother-in-law, and he believes he will find shelter there. Unfortunately, the mobster—who is portrayed by Tyler Perry for about 18 seconds—has hired two extremely vengeful assassins who are, as the movie establishes in its opening scene, very good at their jobs. The vengeful assassins are brothers; they are played by Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen, best known (to me) as Carcetti from the Wire and also Littlefinger from Game of Thrones. (The exact nature of Perry’s mob ties are never explained, nor is his seemingly endless stream of money and teams of assassins at the ready.)
Y’all, this movie is absolutely batshit! The B-plot is never fully explained and the firefighting action slash movie-long assassin chase turns into a weird trauma buddy comedy between Angelina Jolie and the tween, who by the way lost his mother to cancer and has just witnessed his dad being murdered by Nicholas Hoult and Carcetti. They turn their escape from the assassins into a long trek across the wilderness until they are stymied by a wildfire started by, yes, the assassins, as a distraction of some sort. When they have to turn back to find shelter in the lookout point, one would think that they could just make a phone call and get some help, but oh whoops, a LIGHTNING BOLT has already hit the satellite phone tower and therefore there is no recourse. But then Deputy Sheriff Shane figures it out and also, there’s a long scene in which his wife, who is both pregnant and a survivalist, has to fight off the assassins? I cannot believe I am writing this? The wife is played by Medina Senghore, who is doing the best she can with the material she has been given, including blasting off shotguns while being eight months pregnant. Given the tenor of this film, I’m honestly shocked her water didn’t break while the assassins were grilling her on the whereabouts of the tween. (They need to kill the tween on orders of mob boss Tyler Perry.)
Those Who Wish Me Dead is based on a novel of the same name by Michael Koryta, which I am glad I did not read before seeing this movie because witnessing the absurd plot twists play out on screen was deeply weird and satisfying; I will now read it purely because I need to know what, exactly, the forensic accountant figured out about the mob boss, setting off this bonkers chain of events. The pleasure of the screen version, though, is that it’s been a long time since a big special-effects thriller has been so wild, and it’s a pleasure that I missed. Highly recommend!