Danger has many flavours in Those Who Wish Me Dead. Ferocious fires rage across the Montana wilderness. So do nightmarish storms. And most unsettlingly of all, so do two damn suave assassins: an unlikely duo, played by Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, who’ve been charged with hushing up a big political corruption case.
Unhappily for the protagonists in this impressively silly yet gripping western thriller, they will slay pretty much anyone who gets in their way. That even applies to Connor (Finn Little), a wise-for-his-years kid whose dad is a forensic accountant. He knows stuff he shouldn’t. They flee to the forests, Connor ends up lost and alone. And then, fortuitously, running along a creek, he meets Hannah (a fierce, assured Angelina Jolie), a ‘smoke-jumping’ firefighter who surveys the picturesque woodland from her watchtower.
It’s immediately apparent she is traumatised by a recent blaze. She blames herself for failing to save three boys who were caught up in it. And so – with pacy, stylish direction from Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), who also co-wrote the script with author Michael Koryta – Those Who Wish Me Dead tracks Hannah’s attempts to save this other young kid. Ridden with flashbacks and with a punchy orchestral score, it’s a thoroughly improbable story of her internal redemption. And it’s largely pretty great.
The plot abounds in ridiculousness. Twice – twice! – Hannah is struck by lightning. For some reason, the assassins start a forest fire themselves. It might be just to distract the locals; in the end, the move comes back to bite them. But despite all this, the movie sweeps you up and keeps you hooked. Much of this is thanks to the allure of the landscape, expertly shot by cinematographer Ben Richardson. And the other key element is the dialogue, especially between Connor and Hannah. The latter extols the beauty of the inferno. The former? ‘I didn’t like it – it scared the shit out of me.’ Quite.
Out in US theaters and on HBO Max now. In UK cinemas Mon 17.