By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Two vulnerable characters form a bond amid perilous circumstances in the thriller “Those Who Wish Me Dead” (Warner Bros.).
While the film’s path heads toward redemption for one and recovery for the other, detours and details along the journey make it strictly a trip for grown-ups.
The picture begins with a pair of seemingly separate stories. The first is that of veteran smokejumper Hannah (Angelina Jolie). Haunted by a forest fire tragedy for which she blames herself, Hannah has become emotionally isolated and self-destructive.
The second narrative strand follows Connor (Finn Little), a young boy who is especially close to his widowed dad, forensic accountant Owen (Jake Weber). Unbeknown to Connor, Owen has uncovered explosive information, knowledge of which makes him a target for a pair of assassins, Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult).
Learning from the news that the district attorney in whom he confided has been killed, Own goes on the lam, with Connor in tow. Owen hopes to hide out with his late wife’s brother, Ethan (Jon Bernthal), a sheriff’s deputy in the small rural town where Hannah lives.
Jack and Patrick catch up with Owen on the way and gun him down, but not before he entrusts a written description of what he has discovered to Connor, who manages to escape from the murderers. Now on his own in the wilderness, blood-spattered Connor crosses paths with Hannah, who takes him under her protection.
Although Hannah, Ethan and Ethan’s wife, Allison (Medina Senghore), a trained survivalist, all work to rescue Connor, Jack and Patrick prove to be both ruthless and relentless.
Director and co-writer (with Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt) Taylor Sheridan’s loose adaptation of Koryta’s 2014 novel benefits from its offbeat plot and the appeal of its central duo. As Hannah pulls herself together, warms up and succeeds in winning Connor’s trust, Little conveys the latter’s traumatic grief without becoming lachrymose.
The proceedings, however, are briefly soured by the slightly unsavory character of some of the mentoring Hannah offers Connor — by, among other things, teaching him an off-color tongue-twister. This is in keeping with the ribald banter we’ve heard her exchange with her colleagues in earlier scenes.
Add to those moments the disturbing extremes to which Jack and Patrick are willing to resort and the graphic depiction of the mayhem they wreak and it’s clear that this is too gritty a production even for mature teens. Those not averse to such seamy ingredients, however, may find the movie more thoughtful and even strangely touching than many an action-adventure.
The film contains much violence with brief but vivid gore, sexual humor and references, about a half-dozen profanities, a couple of milder oaths as well as pervasive rough and considerable crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.