When one of the most sought-after thriller authors of his generation comes around the corner with a new film, you automatically sit up and take notice. But Taylor Sheridan’s adaptation of the novel THEY WANT ME DEAD not only has the big problem of an unbelievable leading actress, but is also far removed from his previous works in other ways. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Those Who Wish Me Dead (CAN/USA 2021)
Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is part of a fire department that specializes in forest fires. She is still suffering from the loss of three lives that she was unable to save from a fire some time ago. She finds a kind of solace in her pain in the self-imposed isolation of her watchtower, high above the Montana wilderness. However, when Connor (Finn Little) – a shy boy who is covered in blood and appears to be traumatized – shows up in their area, they must set off together to cross the miles of dense forests. They brave deadly lightning storms that push even Hannah to the limit with her honed survival skills, all the while oblivious to the real danger: two merciless killers (Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) chasing Connor from one direction, with a massive fire right there comes towards them and destroys everything in its path. Caught between two evils, will Hannah be able to keep her alive long enough to save Connor and finally forgive herself?
Taylor Sheridan is currently one of the most sought-after thriller authors of his time. His debut film “Sicario” was immediately nominated for three Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Score and Best Sound Editing), and his second film, the neo-Western “Hell or High Water”, was immediately nominated for four, including for Sheridan’s script. For his third work “Wind River”, which was not nominated for the Academy Award but was nominated for numerous other film awards, Sheridan went to the director’s chair for the second time (after his debut “Pain” from 2011), but it was meant to be be the first time that Sheridan has his own Story staged yourself. After “Sicario 2” and a few episodes for the TV series “Tom Clancy’s Mercyless”, the native Texan is now dedicating himself to working in the director’s chair once again; And probably his first from a third-party work, which is attracting attention now that Sheridan has made a name for himself. The advantage of being a blank slate is that you can try things out largely unnoticed, as happened with the horror thriller “Pain” around ten years ago. With “They Want Me Dead” it’s no longer so easy. And then there is the megastar cast of Hollywood beauty Angelina Jolie (“Maleficent – The Dark Fairy”), which immediately turns out to be the film’s biggest problem. Because with the best will in the world, you can’t believe the actress as a tough firefighter who risks her life day after day in the heat of the flames and jokes around with her chubby colleagues between missions.
Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is one of the so-called “fire jumpers” – a fire brigade unit that specializes in forest fires.
To date, Angelina Jolie has proven in numerous film projects that it is not without reason that she has earned her status as one of the most sought-after Hollywood actresses. Since her very first appearance in front of the camera in 1982, she has not only made headlines with her scandalous life, before her public image changed from an irrepressible rebel to an ambassador for various humanitarian institutions. She was also nominated for two Oscars, one of which she won for her supporting role in “Girl, Interrupted” from 2000, before she was suggested again four years later for the leading role in “The Strange Son”. Even though she had to admit defeat by a colleague this time, Jolie has (not only) proven with these examples that she was rightly known for her work as an actress – and less for her marriage to Brad Pitt. But while you buy her the loving mother, the cartoonishly beautiful and dark sorceress Maleficent and, in the first moving images of “Marvel’s Eternals”, a god-like superhero, she is simply miscast as the traumatized firefighter in “They Want Me Dead”. . No matter how prominent her non-manicured fingernails are in the picture, she can outdo her colleagues, all of whom are male, in intimidating the young firefighters with flashy toasts. At the latest when she jumps from a moving car during a daring stunt and is then thrown wildly around by a parachute, you can’t shake the feeling that Jolie’s game here is more like tortured evidence. The fact that the 45-year-old Californian can also play “something like that”. But that’s exactly what robs her performance of its lightness – and her role as the lonely, traumatized Hannah lacks authenticity until the end.
“While you buy Angelina Jolie as the loving mother, the cartoonishly beautiful and dark sorceress Maleficent and, in the first moving pictures of “Marvel’s Eternals”, a god-like superhero, she is simply and moving as the traumatized firefighter in “They Want Me Dead”. miscast.”
That doesn’t change when, about halfway through the film, her character meets the boy Connor, who is fleeing through her forest and who, just a few hours ago, had seen two villains armed to the teeth murder his father. Sheridan describes the reason for this in a straightforward manner in his two-page script and ensures a high pace with its two-part structure. “They Want Me Dead” first establishes the killers and their brutal machinations, then the film gives us a brief insight into the coexistence between Connor and his father until the situation quickly escalates and Connor ends up lonely and abandoned in the forest area observed by Hannah. Both narrative strands are so different in terms of staging that one would easily assume that they were directed by two different directors. Taylor Sheridan can hardly be blamed for relying too much on his reduced, naturalistic style. Ultimately, it is to his credit that the pulpy, exaggerated narrative thread surrounding Connor and his pursuers and the largely unaffected episode surrounding Hannah and her fire brigade unit come together somewhat organically; But from then on, Sheridan can no longer master these two completely contradictory narrative and staging styles and lets “They Want Me Dead” run blindly at a gallop. It’s as if Sheridan himself was curious to see where the story would end up.
Finn Little takes on the role of Connor, who is hunted by killers.
This is anything but boring; on the contrary. “They Want Me Dead” opens up several points of fire in terms of narrative and includes sometimes more, sometimes less believable supporting characters, so that something is always happening on the screen (or on the TV screen at home via a premium stream). But many scenes require an enormous amount of goodwill from their audience in order to function even within this thriller, which gradually takes on a certain B-movie charm. A thunderstorm sequence that stands out so negatively due to its quality and is therefore even suitable for a meme not only suffers from its terrible CGI effects, but also from its constructed nature. In contrast, there are the sometimes martial-looking scenes in which the fire brigade unit can be seen at work. Because the duo of Jolie’s Hannah and newcomer Finn Little unfortunately hardly have any chemistry (“Angel of Mine”) The strongly played Connor is not only pursued by the cartoonish-looking killers, but as they flee they soon come across a huge wall of flames. At least now we can draw conclusions as to why “They Want Me Dead” seems so frayed overall. Taylor Sheridan’s efforts to create a true-to-life survival thriller are juxtaposed with the script he wrote together with Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt (“In the Heart of the Sea”), which was adapted for the screen, but which tonally serves completely different audience desires. From the pulp novel originally titled “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” which presents its story in a decidedly lurid and ludicrous way, Sheridan tries to filter out the few lifelike elements and use them to create a new one. Something that didn’t work out.
“Taylor Sheridan’s efforts to create a true-to-life survival thriller are contrasted with the script that he, together with Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt, adapted for the screen, but which tonally serves completely different audience desires.”
Nevertheless, these weak points are part of the appeal of “They Want Me Dead”. Although you can’t shake the feeling of watching two incompatible individual films being held together by hook or by crook, neither one nor the other narrative thread is completely messed up; on the contrary. The film is fast-paced and has a pleasant feel in its few action scenes. The few computer effects, on the other hand, always seem like foreign bodies. Cinematographer Ben Richardson, already familiar with Sheridan’s style (“Wind River”) adapts to the two-part film attitude and also presents different variations of his work. Highly polished images are juxtaposed with reduced, unadulterated shots until the optics finally slowly converge in the second half.
Conclusion: “They Want Me Dead” feels like two different films and their styles were meant to be made into one by hook or by crook. It’s exciting to watch Taylor Sheridan pull off this balancing act, bumpily but not completely without charm. The protagonist played by Angelina Jolie could have held the story together. But unfortunately her person is a classic example of miscast. Ultimately, the film never leaves you bored, but its flaws are all too obvious. “They Want Me Dead” is not a complete disaster, but as a “barely solid” film it is by far Sheridan’s worst work to date.
“They Want Me Dead” will be available to stream as a paid premium VOD title from June 3rd.