*. By sheer coincidence I ended up watching this movie right after The Marksman. Their plots have much in common. A loner (Liam Neeson is an ex-Marine rancher; Angelina Jolie a smoke-jumper temporarily parked in a lookout tower) happen to be nearby when a boy loses his only parent to murderous gangsters. The gangsters then chase after the boy and it’s up to Liam/Angelina to protect the kid.
*. I guess it’s an obvious enough template to bolt on to anything. Or, in the case of The Marksman, to bolt on to nothing. In Those Who Wish Me Dead there’s a forest fire to deal with, and some other characters involved, in the form of Jon Bernthal and Medina Senghore. I liked Those Who Wish Me Dead a little more just because the script wasn’t quite as hokey and the fire stuff made for a nice backdrop. But otherwise . . .
*. Is there some underlying message or anxiety being tapped into in these movies about a crisis in American parenthood? Orphaned children having to depend on these strange, solitary, cowboy figures to survive? I may be stretching here, but I’d like to think there’s something more going on than just the usual dumb action plot. And it is dumb. The Organization, whoever they are, can’t think of a slightly more subtle way to dispose of the boy’s dad, a forensic accountant, but by laying down a track of lethal carnage that crosses the continent? And why would it make any difference if the accountant gets killed? Wouldn’t that just make whoever’s paying to whack him seem even guiltier, without getting rid of any real evidence?
*. I know it’s wrong to ask questions like this, of a movie like this, but I can’t help myself. Once again we have people burning through fantastic amounts of ammo with no credible explanation of where it’s all coming from. Yes, movies do know enough to show characters reloading all the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that they must still be carrying whole boxes of bullets around with them. And another point: if you get shot with a pistol you may be able to gut it out. If you get shot several times with a high-powered rifle, that’s it. You’re going to get a huge chunk of yourself blown off and you’re going to die.
*. The killers (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hault) are just nasty without being scary. They beat the shit out of a couple of women but are staggeringly inept at doing their job. When they get to the lookout tower I wasn’t even sure what their plan was, or if they had one. I’m sure I was supposed to find their cold violence shocking, but all I could keep thinking of was Harry and Marv from Home Alone.
*. I can’t be the only one who finds something weird about Angelina Jolie. So it’s a credit to her to be playing a real blue-collar, regular gal. But might she have also considered gaining some weight for the role? Firefighting is a demanding, physical job and she looks like she weighs all of 90 pounds here. This is so obvious they even have to make a joke about it at the end, where she says she’s actually not skinny but “lean.” The cartoonish scene where she hides behind a tree had me thinking about how wide a tree would have to be to conceal her.
*. What’s surprising is that this really isn’t a star vehicle for Jolie. Screen time is shared pretty equally among a full slate of players, with Medina Senghore saving the day as a pregnant Black woman riding a white horse to the rescue of her wounded hubby. But this also leads to a lack of focus, so we’re never deeply involved in any of the characters. Though it’s not like any amount of skill in the script or her performance was going to get me to invest in Jolie’s hoary back story and her need for redemption. She blames herself for the death of some kids in a fire, you see, so she needs to save the boy so that . . . you know.
*. Taylor Sheridan’s baby, as he was director, co-writer, and producer. I guess he’s found his modern-cowboy métier. Might he have written The Marksman? Here are the film’s last lines. The boy asks Jolie “Where am I going to go?” She answers “I don’t know. But I promise you, we’re going to figure it out together.” As an aside, I think it’s one mark of a film’s failure if you can’t even remember the first names of the characters. I’ve just been referring to “Jolie” and “the boy” here because even after just watching it I have no recollection of what their names were. I looked them up now and she’s Hannah and he’s Connor (they’re given no last names).
*. The best parts are the fire effects. I liked the lighting and the ash floating in the air. Aside from that, this is a forgettable effort. I found myself wondering about all those kinds of things a good action movie makes you forget. Like why the father’s car doesn’t have airbags. Or why a lookout tower would be so vulnerable to lightning strikes. Or the point of the whole scene where Jolie and the kid race across a field pursued by lightning. Isn’t that sort of like trying to dance between the raindrops? In any event it doesn’t work. But it doesn’t matter either. Which is sort of how I felt about everything going on here.