On Friday, May 14, 2021, Warner Bros, under the New Line Cinema banner, released Those Who Wish Me Dead to theaters as well as digitally, for one month, on HBO Max.
An adaptation of the 2014 book by Michael Koryta, the film follows Hannah (Angelina Jolie: Gia 1996, Girl Interrupted 1999), a former firefighter traumatized by a forest fire that claimed the lives of some teenage boys. She heads back to the woods to keep watch from a firetower, and ends up with more than she bargained for. She comes across Connor (Finn Little: Tidelands 2018, Angel of Mine 2019), a boy who witnessed the murder of his father, and is on the run from the hitmen who killed him. She has to get him back to the nearest town before they are caught by them, the storm, or the encroaching forest fire.
Koryta worked on the screenplay alongside Director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario 2015, Without Remorse 2021) and Charles Levitt (Blood Diamond 2006, Warcraft 2016), so it might be more faithful to the source material than other adaptations. But that does not guarantee it will be better for it. So, how is it?
Well, for those curious, it follows the beats of the book. The assassins-played by Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones Series, The Maze Runner: Death Cure 2018) and Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy 2002, Warm Bodies 2013) – are devious brothers with sly tactics. The boy and his father Owen (Jake Weber: Dawn of the Dead 2004, Medium Series) initially seek shelter with a couple-played by Jon Bernthal (Fury 2014, Baby Driver 2017) and Medina Senghore (Happy Series, Blindspot 2018)- who run a survival course.
Keener book fans could list the similarities and differences. Yet the worst difference is more general. The book was praised for being a tense Thriller. That in mind, the film boils the book down to a straightforward Action flick, joining other child-defending movies like 1998’s Mercury Rising and 2012’s Safe. Only it is set in Montana, and it trades in Bruce Willis and Jason Statham for Jolie. She has done action before, so it is not a bad trade. Jolie puts in about as much effort as the script deserves; not to the level of 2008’s Changeling, but solid enough for her edgy, cool-mom-esque character.
The other performances are done quite well too. Little does a strong job as the determined Connor, and has nice chemistry with Jolie. Gillen and Hoult play off each other well too- notably with Hoult’s uneasy glances as Gillen’s character threatens Bernthal’s local sheriff. There is even an odd cameo from Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman 2005, Sistas Series) as the man behind the hitmen.
One would think that would make him the big villain of the piece, but nope. This is just one of a few enigmas the audience are left to figure out for themselves. Did he have a bigger role in the book? Did the survival course aspect matter more in the book too? Or was it just as incidental there? Even for those who have not read the original novel, it feels like too much got abridged.
Ultimately, Those Who Wish Me Dead is not the worst film out. The direction is competent, as is the acting. It could even make for a fair night out if one just wants a plain popcorn flick. The problem is that it is a little too plain, with little on offer to talk about after the summer is over. Quite damning for an adaptation of a critically-acclaimed novel. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Those Who Wish Me Dead 2.5 out of 5 stars.