Those Who Wish Me Dead, MA. 100 minutes. 3 stars
What an impressive name for a film - Those Who Wish Me Dead. It conjures that epic oil baron drama There Will Be Blood or the indie zombie drama The Dead Don't Die, but Taylor Sheridan's action crime thriller is sadly devoid of milkshake drinking or the walking dead.
Instead, it has the glamorous Angelina Jolie as a firefighter battling natural disasters and bad wigs to save a boy pursued by hitmen. That's a lot of adversity to endure in the short space of 100 minutes. But if anyone can do it, it's the original Lara Croft herself.
Angie is Hannah, a firefighter in Montana's rugged forest country who has been tasked to staff a lonely fire watch tower in a remote part of the state. She's probably been given the solo gig as some employer-mandated self-reflection time since a fire rescue the previous summer led to a few deaths that Hannah holds herself accountable for.
Crashing in on her isolation and self-pity is Connor (Finn Little), son of forensic accountant Owen (Jake Weber) who has uncovered the financial wrong-doings of some seriously powerful figures.
Hitmen Jack (Aiden Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) take out Owen's District Attorney boss and the boss's whole family, and when Owen sees this on the TV news he throws son Connor in the car, disconnects their mobile phones, and heads for the remote safety of his police officer brother Ethan (Jon Bernthal) in the Montana countryside.
Owen knows the bad guys will come for him too, and he's of course, completely right.
When they catch up with him, he gets Connor safely hidden with instructions to flee into the woods and to find an adult he can trust, and here his path crosses that of the anguished Hannah.
As a lightning strike has taken out her radio, Hannah and Connor flee on foot, but the two bad guys have set a forest fire to cover their tracks and limit the escape options for their prey.
You know this is a film its studio had big plans for when every character, even the relatively minor ones, are played by big names who should have have headlined films of they own. Aiden Gillen of the British Queer as Folk and better known as Little Finger from Game of Thrones is a well-cast and believable bad guy, but pairing him with the beautiful Nicholas Hoult, the cute kid from About a Boy who grew up hot to be Beast in X-Men and Peter in The Great, is terrifically unexpected casting.
Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead and Punisher is a competent local sheriff and even multi-hyphenate filmmaker Tyler Perry cameos as a sinister bad guy. It's a little distracting to have such big names so under-used.
Finn Little is a convincingly solid young performer and he holds his own against his older and more studied onscreen colleagues.
It's hard for the audience to disengage their notions and expectations when a star the calibre of Angelina Jolie is on the screen. Lara Croft was a perfect role for her - she's so cartoonish and over-the-top. But for the woman who fights for human rights at the United Nations and on war-torn front lines - the woman who was too good for Brad Pitt - to ask us to suspend disbelief and think of her as a fragile first responder not coping with life, it's just a bit too much to ask.
Her Hannah is a real mess though and for a woman so noted for her brood of children, we see what might have attracted her to the role with Connor bringing out a fierce maternal defender in Hannah.
But even when we're seeing the fragility of Jolie's character, we're distracted by the three points of light her enormous brown eyes pick up from the camera, like a human anime character. For all the work the makeup team do slowly disheveling Hannah as the film progresses, with hair singed by fire and covered in cuts and bruises, she also has smashingly on-point eye makeup throughout.
Still, I wouldn't want my Angelina to be represented any other way.
Director Taylor Sheridan pulls off some fantastic shots, with the film's final showdown the kind of clever work I expect film students will pull apart for years to come, but these moments aren't consistent throughout.
He is a talented writer, notably of Sicario and Hell or High Water, but he and his co-writers Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt take it all just a bit too seriously. It is based on the novel by Koryta and is something of a western in contemporary clothing.
The bushfire scenes, or forest fires if you're American, will be triggering for some for who this was real-life last summer, but they are well staged and designed by the film's production designers and CGI computer wizards. You can positively feel the heat coming off them.