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Those Who Wish Me Dead: A cliched thriller

Thriller Thursdays: In Montana’s forests, a firefighter flees with a child to save him from assassins and herself from her own nightmares.

Those Who Wish Me Dead: A cliched thriller
  • Sunil Bhandari

Last Updated: 09.01 PM, Sep 08, 2022

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In our weekly column, Thriller Thursdays, we recommend specially-curated thrillers that’ll send a familiar chill down your spine.

There's an interesting analogy that works as a subcutaneous theme throughout Those Who Wish Me Dead as it compares the ruthlessness of nature with that of man, and how they merge at a point - and then diverge - as they progress in their trajectories. The difference is in the wilful naturalness of one and the natural wilfulness of the other. The forest, the fires which wreck forests, and the men who wreck fires, form an integral part of the story line of the film.

Angelina Jolie as Hannah Faber is a smokejumper (Wikipedia definition: 'Smokejumpers' are specially trained wildland firefighters who provide an initial attack response on remote wildland fires. They are inserted at the site of the fire by parachute), a firefighter who is haunted by nightmares of a forest fire where she’d failed to save three children, from a wrong reading of the wind’s direction. Pending inquiry, she is now sent to man a lonely fire lookout tower in the middle of Montana's forests. In a parallel story, there is Owen Casserly (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant who is fleeing an assassination attempt because he has uncovered widespread corruption deep in the bureaucracy and government for which his elimination is contracted. Unfortunately, he has his 12-year-old son Connor (Finn Little) with him which makes his vulnerability even greater.

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As the story evolves, the boy must make a run for his life, and comes within the forested universe of Hannah Faber. And the assassins are hot on his heels, as they suspect that he knows something about the damning evidence which his father had uncovered. But Hannah becomes proactive protector and Connor the insightful protected. Their bravery comes from different directions - in running away to fight another battle and run into it so that one can face it headlong.

The conceit of the film is its unusual canvas - the forests, the rivers, the wilderness, the loneliness, which are all captured in telling vistas. And it is very clear that within its beauty lies the insidious nature of its unpredictability. The chase through this terrain is realistic and throws up its own surprises.

There is a galaxy of interesting characters who become a part of this cat-and-mouse hunt, with one being a survival expert who is pregnant and a husband who is a sheriff with an attitude. Interestingly, within the predictability of the film's trajectory, are embedded these characters, their cameos, and the situations which give the film both an interesting lilt and a tensile bump.

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In fact, far more interesting than Jolie's pedestrian heroism, are the two assassins (Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen) who are city killers with a variety of guns and an arsenal of arrogance, and who meet their nemesis in the forests. Their continuous refrain is that they 'hate the fucking place', and the denouement of the film makes it clear that the place hates them right back.

But within its summation, the film leaves a sense of inchoateness, everything is good, but just not good enough. The fires are singeing but not terrifying, the heroine is strong enough but not vulnerable enough to care, the music involves but belts out predictable beats, the cinematography captures but rarely enraptures. This might well be director Taylor Sheridan's summer vacation after the rigours of Yellowstone and Mayor of Kingstown. One only wishes he had given this film a little bit of their visceral touch which would have made the film more scathing and much more memorable.

Consequently, as it so very often happens with inadequate films, the riches come in unexpected places. Here the encounter of the assassins with the survival expert is satisfying. And both the villains are just the right pitch of nastiness and exasperation. More than the people, it is the place which defeats them. And in that inevitability is the victory where the forest fires finally give more light than heat. And the film’s script shows its burning embers finally rising above the floating motes of ash.

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Trivia:

  1. Taylor Sheridan was first brought in to rewrite the script of the film, but when the contracted director dropped out of directing the film, he called the studio with an offer that if he could get Angelina Jolie to do the film, he would direct the film. The studio said, "Great. You'll never get Angie."
  2. The forest featured in the film was actually a huge set of woods, which was then set on fire. Actual firefighters were on the set to contain the inferno. Angelina Jolie personally met with several of them to get insight into the dangerous universe of smoke jumping.
  3. Director Taylor Sheridan gained tremendous respect for his scripts for Sicario, Hell or High Water, and more recently Yellowstone.

You can watch Those Who Wish Me Dead here. 

(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)

(Written by Sunil Bhandari, a published poet and host of the podcast ‘Uncut Poetry’)

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