It has been a while since Angelina Jolie starred in a good action movie — probably since “Salt” in 2010 — but she’s back in form in “Those Who Wish Me Dead.”
The movie begins with two assassins blowing up the house of a District Attorney in Florida who is making a case against some very powerful people. When he sees the story on a newscast, a forensic accountant who worked with the DA realizes his life is now in danger. He decides to take his 12-year-old son and head for Montana, where an old friend who’s now a sheriff runs a survival camp with his wife. Unfortunately, the hit men figure out his destination, and the hunt is on. I won’t give too much away other than to say at one point, the boy ends up on his own.
So, where is Angelina Jolie, you ask?
While all of the above plays out, she’s working as leader of a smoke-jumping detail of firefighters who specialize in wildfires. But she’s suffering from PTSD after an incident a year earlier in which she misjudged the wind and watched three boys burn to death. Relieved of her responsibilities, she’s assigned to a National Forest Service tower, where she works alone, keeping an eye out for any signs of fire, smoke, and lightning.
One day, she climbs down from the tower to retrieve some water from a stream and sees the boy running towards her. After winning his trust, she becomes his guardian, which means keeping both of them safe from the assassins, who are closing in. This is where Jolie really shines. Her maternal instincts are on full display as she develops a warm chemistry with the boy, but she also shows off her talent for action scenes, whether dealing with the two killers or a roaring wildfire they’ve set nearby. Although Jolie’s name is listed above the title, she actually appears in less than half the movie, but she makes every moment work.
A movie like “Those Who Wish Me Dead” can’t rely purely on the screen appeal of its heroine. It has to have compelling villains, too, and these (played by Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillen) certainly fit the bill. They are so relentless in their pursuit that even being burned doesn’t stop them. The story never gets bogged down with details about who hired the hit men or what they’re protecting. None of that matters, only their persistence and malevolent efficiency.
As the boy, Finn Little is the kind of kid you can’t help rooting for, displaying just the right mix of bravery and fear. Jon Bernthal is his usual stoic self as Ethan, the sheriff who recognizes the danger his old friend is in and acts accordingly. I’ll also give a shout out to Medina Senghore as Ethan’s survivalist wife Allison, who gets her share of action sequences, too.
The man responsible for all of this is Taylor Sheridan in his directorial debut after writing the screenplays for “Hell or High Water,” “Wind River,” and the TV series “Yellowstone.” I wasn’t a fan of his recent screenplay for “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” which is streaming on Prime Video (I reviewed it here), but he makes up for it with the crisp plotting and good pacing of “Those Who Wish Me Dead.”
It also includes remarkable footage of wildfires, which at first I thought must have been created via CGI. But it turns out Sheridan had a simulated forest built in the New Mexico desert, then set it ablaze to ramp up the risk to his characters. That’s why it looks so real.
After seeing so many bad movies over the last few weeks, I was happy to finally have one that kept me riveted throughout. And it’s good to have Jolie back on screen in a role that gives her a chance to show both her acting and action chops.
I’m giving “Those Who Wish Me Dead” an 8 out of 10.
Now playing in theaters. Also streaming on HBO Max through June 13th.