Those Who Wish me Dead

This thriller gets an A+ for execution and a C for theme amounting to a masterpiece of execution without much else.

The film follows a boy named Connor played by Finn Little who goes on the run with his father after two ruthlessly efficient assassins come after him. Once he gets to Montana he encounters a Sheriff’s deputy played by the always excellent Jon Bernthal, and a smoke jumper played by Angelina Jolie. Young Connor must contend with assassins, lightning storms, and a massive forest fire in order to… talk to the media about what his dad uncovered. It’s a lackluster goal considering the extreme peril he’s put in throughout the film.

Before I get too lost in the weeds of my issues with the film. I need to offer up some praise. This movie is well deserving of a lot of praise. Starting with the writer director Taylor Sheridan.

Sheridan is one of the best screenwriters working today. His scripts are powerful, efficient, and speak volumes while saying few words. His characters behave in believable ways and make realistic decisions in the situations he concocts for them. He is a great writer, and growing into a good director. This is his second feature behind the camera. His mastery of tone and his ability to work with actors is on full display here.

Those performances come from some great actors. I love Jon Bernthal. He does great work here as a cop in over his head. Finn Little captures the trauma of a kid dealing with forces far bigger than himself. Nicolas Hoult and Aden Gillen are equally terrifying and relatable as cold blooded killers who are also brothers. They clearly care deeply about each other while killing everyone in their path. Angelina Jolie is fine. I’ve never been a fan of hers, and here she is fine. She’s solid. Sometimes I like her in movies. Sometimes I find her performance distracting. I think she’s good here. Not great not bad.

My real issue with the film is the ending. It’s not what happened at the end it’s why. There was no satisfying meaning or theme behind the conclusion.

The story is macguffin driven. A macguffin was defined by Alfred Hitchcock as the thing which everyone in the movie cares about very much. It is the driving force behind the action on screen. Here the macguffin is the information that Connors dad uncovered, but the movie never tells us what he uncovered or whom he uncovered it about. Connor’s goal is to get the information out to the world, but we don’t know what good of any that will do. On a literal level we don’t really know what the movie is about.

On a thematic level we don’t really know what it’s about either. The movie doesn’t draw a thematic line through its macguffin. You could say it’s about exposing corruption, but it’s unclear if that’s what Connors secret is. It could be about revealing evil institutions, but no evil institutions are revealed. If we ditch the macguffin and look at each character the main theme seems to be survival. But the movie doesn’t say much about survival. Some people live others don’t. There isn’t much rhyme or reason as to why. If that’s what they’re trying to say “life’s tough, sometimes people die” then that’s not enough for me.

I’m left disappointed. I have a feeling of being let down after watching the movie. With a production this good, and execution this strong I wish it had a better story. As it is it is a week made movie that feels hollow.

Maybe you’ll get more out of it thematically than I did. I can recommend so much if this movie, but for me it didn’t quite make it across the finish line. If you want to check it out, it is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

It’s half a cup of tea. B

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