Arts

Taylor Sheridan's Those Who Wish Me Dead a 'ruthlessly economical pursuit thriller'

Those Who Wish Me Dead: Finn Little as Connor and Angelina Jolie as Hannah
Damon Smith

FILM OF THE WEEK

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (15, 100 mins) Thriller/Action/Romance. Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Bernthal, Medina Senghore, Jake Weber, Tyler Perry. Director: Taylor Sheridan.

Released: May 17

BETWEEN laser-targeted gun shots in director Taylor Sheridan's ruthlessly economical pursuit thriller, a sharp-suited puppet master (Tyler Perry) communicates the art of warfare in a single snappy refrain: "Assume catastrophe and act accordingly."

Those Who Wish Me Dead takes his words to its blackened heart, orchestrating a high-stakes game of cats and mice in the fire-ravaged Montana wilderness by melting away extraneous fat from dramatic exposition and character development.

The sinewy script, adapted from Michael Koryta's book by the author, Sheridan and Charles Leavitt, steadily cranks up tension as a female firefighter and her young ward go on the run from assassins in the belly of a raging inferno.

Fire sequences are orchestrated in pulse-quickening close-up in a specially constructed 300-acre forest, which Sheridan and his team set ablaze to minimise the use of digital effects and immerse actors in their smouldering environment.

Angelina Jolie puts herself through emotional and physical wringers to convincingly portray a daredevil emergency responder, tormented by three deaths on her watch.

She kindles winning screen chemistry with 14-year-old Australian co-star Finn Little.

The young actor scorches every frame with his powerhouse portrayal of a traumatised murder witness: choking on anguished screams as a parent is gunned down in front of him and then letting the floodgates open in juddering sobs when a guardian angel shows him compassion.

His protector is Hannah Faber (Jolie), a specially trained wildland firefighter for the Park County Fire Department in Montana, who parachutes into roaring infernos with her gung-ho team.

Three days after one tragic call-out, she fails a psychiatric evaluation and is reassigned to a fire tower, pithily described as a "20 metre by 20 metre box on stilts with no toilet".

Stationed alone in the wilderness with her nagging guilt, Hannah is gifted an unlikely shot at redemption when she stumbles upon terrified 12-year-old Connor Casserly (Little).

The blood-spattered boy is on the run from hit men Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult), who murdered Connor's father (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant with proof of malfeasance in the upper echelons of power.

Jack intentionally starts a forest fire to distract authorities, including Connor's uncle Park County Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal), while they hunt their guileless prey. However, the gun-toting killers underestimate Mother Nature and her furies: Hannah and Ethan's heavily pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore).

Those Who Wish Me Dead sets nerves on edge in opening scenes and stokes that sense of unease by coolly dispatching characters in nail-biting action sequences, complemented by composer Brian Tyler's propulsive score.

Little's expertly wrung waterworks are no match for real and digitally rendered fires, which mercilessly devour everything in their path and bathe Jolie's features in flickering golden light.

Where there's smoke, Sheridan's film is on fire.

RATING: 3/5

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