Movie Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead
Once again HBO saves the day. If I had driven to the theater to see this movie and paid for admission, I would have been very upset. Thankfully this movie is one of those COVID-19 era releases that hit both theaters and HBO at the same time.
The cast is strong. The production values are strong. Where this movie falls down is the writing and direction.
The first problem is that, in terms of story, everything is an abstraction. The flick opens with a murder of a district attorney. It's implied that the killing is to stop prosecution of a criminal case, but we don't get the details. Through the course of the entire movie, we never learn what's properly at stake or for whom.
Then we get the first writerly garbage. Despite this being a supposedly high-stakes situation, the people who contract the killing of the DA are too cheap to pay for a separate team to get the accountant who supplied crucial evidence to that DA. There is this contrived sense of tension that the hitmen must get to the accountant in another city before he sees the news of the DA's death and runs. So, immediately, we're in the bush-league. Guess what? The guy sees the news and runs--with his son.
By the end of the movie, the hitmen get instructions about the sky being the limit on what can be done to get their target. It's asinine. The movie opens with a problem that's not quite important enough to pay for proper manpower, but later on, golly you guys need to get on it. Those sort of ham-fisted story chunks litter this entire movie. There's a lot of ungrounded, unspecified, cognitively dissonant chunks of story that lurch through the entire movie.
Where does Angelina come in? Good question. She really has no connection with the main plot. She is the random person that finds the accountant's kid and makes it her mission to keep him safe. However, to introduce her, we get a look at some firefighter camaraderie to give her flavor. It has a bizarrely random set piece where she sits in the back of a pickup truck with a parachute that triggers at highway speed. She gets pulled out of the truck, flails through the air, and lands on the side of the road. It's like watching Adventures in Stupid White Trash. Make no mistake, she looks great for her age--if emaciated--but her introduction is so stupid that it bleeds into her character.
She, of course, is a tortured soul who can't get over those people she couldn't save last year. She's the super tough chick who, when it's convenient, is literally paralyzed by flashbacks of those nice people standing in the woods. She never sees them die, so all her trauma is their imagined deaths.
That thing about Jolie's character's trauma is one of many directorial slips. If she is going to have paralyzing trauma, find a visual for it, otherwise people like me will nod our heads and admit that its a horrible situation but not feel it. That lack of punch in framing her damage makes the moments where its supposed to affect seem off. The trauma onscreen doesn't match the trauma in scene.
Continuing on to the next writerly mistake, random guy connected to unspecified prosecution involving unknown bad guys who might suffer unknown consequences flees to the brother of his dead wife (making him essentially a stranger). See where I'm going with this? Everyone is unconnected, the stakes are unspecified, and the plot points are essentially random and filmed in the least exciting way.
I could go on, but I think you get the theme by now. The characters are unconnected. The motivations are muddled. The direction fails to engender suspense. It's like someone's student film was given a real budget. I'd love to know the backstory about this production. It wouldn't surprise me if this project got a new director at some point, or the studio had to re-edit it into something plausible for release. The problems of this movie are so obvious that I imagine there's a story behind them.
Don't watch this movie unless its as a cautionary tale in film school.
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