There are some instances where this movie feels like a borderline cinematic masterpiece, but Those Who Wish Me Dead overall just doesn’t work. It’s got the unique setup of a woman firefighter who’s forced to act like a mother to a recently orphaned boy who doubles as a MacGuffin, set in a predicament that feels catered toward a powerful environmental message. Except it’s all told in the same plot beats as other movies where every character has a gun, and the bad guys have no good in them whatsoever.
As much as the direction tries to be all artsy, its attempts just feel like big wastes of time. An example includes when the kid picks up a grasshopper off a barbed wire fence, then goes to pet a wild horse, a random moment that tries to be symbolic but has no plot significance. Yes, the editing is terrible, not just because it features scenes that go nowhere, but more because there are so many shots that last way too short for you to take in anything. With a bit more tonal consistency, this could have saved the entire production and made it The Revenant levels of stunning.
One could easily tell the strong creative juices screaming to get out in some of the shots, as with better editing, the imagery would become as impactful as I’m sure the crew saw it initially before post-production began. Some of the shots that stand out include the opening sequence of skydivers falling into a burning forest- with a POV shot thrown in when they hit the trees. It’s also all done on film, which paid off in the end of giving a piece of nature worth wanting to see not get set ablaze. That particularly works in emphasizing the use of weather all throughout, including the use of ashes raining in the night while the actors are backlit.
This movie could have been treated like a real passion project, but instead just settles for serviceable, even in the cinematography whenever not focused on exteriors. It’s one thing to make the wide shots of nature look beautiful, but that has to translate as well into the cinematic storytelling language when there’s nothing but people talking to look at. All it does to make those scenes more dynamic is using a few fisheye lenses, which only draws more attention away from the conflict. Such similar issues really get more noticeable when it gets closer to the intense climax, for the focus isn’t on the characters, but just on the flames that take over the entire screen like it’s spreading through the forest, into the theater, and off to engulf you.
Though the practical and digital effects are especially corny, particularly the lightning, fire, and CGI landscapes. Then there’s the sound quality, which is just all over the place, proving how the audio crew had some obvious difficulty recording the noises of the forest, so the sound mixers just tried to cover it up with the silly, overly dramatic music. There are so many times the characters conveniently evade death, all being pretty much immortal when it comes to falling or getting burnt or running through smoke, which is noticeable most of all during the feature’s whole accidentally funny finale.
Then there’s the issue with the incomplete character development; Angelina Jolie in the beginning of the film parachutes off a moving pickup truck, and by the end of the movie, she’s still that same crazy rebellious person. Although that does work to some effect, because she acts like a realistic former firefighter that I’m sure others of her profession, and other women in that regard, could relate to and see as fully believable. Her character starts out as someone who acts out to cover up her shame from her failed mission, then progresses into someone who puts a child’s safety over her own, it’s a classic narrative of someone having to act like a parent to a child they never had, but this time it’s flipped around so that it’s a woman who has to be a mother to a son she never had. Yet she is also combating PTSD, and the ending never makes it clear whether or not she overcame it.
Despite how all over the place the script feels, Jolie has moments where she is challenged to show compassion toward this traumatized boy, and in those moments, it really does feel like a phenomenal performance you’d expect from one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses. If she just had a better script, the amount of effort she’s trying her hardest to put in here would actually pay off. While she, along with most of the cast, are not exactly anything mind-blowing when it comes to acting, there’s still plenty of other bad acting to be found here, especially with the kid. The miscasting along with the misguided direction leads to some really inconsistent pacing, either going too fast or not going fast enough. In one scene less than five minutes in, a conversation between two guys has lots of uncomfortable pausing space, then the talking in the very next scene doesn’t even bother to let actors breathe between dialogue exchanges.
It’s a shame that this movie wasn’t anywhere near as good as it could have been, because I could see the elements featured in Those Who Wish Me Dead being developed further and made into something truly special that will bring audiences young and old to tears. But instead, it just ignites its own fire to the genre of octane-heavy thrillers that will burn down more great concepts for the cinematic experience, so they too become watered down versions of themselves. It results in something that doesn’t actually care about the environment, nor does it care about the potential of humanity, it just wants to make the individual feel a little more empowered as they imagine themselves in Angelina Jolie’s place and feel like heroes. We can live without that.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!