Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 9, 2021)
Though best known as the writer of the scripts for acclaimed films like Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan also garnered positive attention for his second feature as a director, 2017’s Wind River. Sheridan directs his third feature with 2021’s Those Who Wish Me Dead.
Forensic accountant Owen Casserly (Jake Weber) learns that his boss died in an apparent gas explosion. However, as he knows of various misdeeds, he suspects murder and believes assassins Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick Blackwell (Nicholas Hoult) will target him next.
Along with son Connor (Finn Little), Owen hightails it to Montana, where he seeks protection from his brother-in-law, Deputy Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal). Before they arrive, though, the Blackwells get to them and leave Owen near death.
Owen passes on critical information to Connor and instructs him to escape. Along the way, Connor meets troubled “smokejumper” Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) and the pair attempt to survive the onslaught from the Blackwells.
For the first decade of the 21st century, Jolie stood as one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood. Of course, her presence as a tabloid darling accentuated her fame, but she also become the pre-eminent American female action star and more than held her own.
After 2010’s The Tourist, though, Jolie spent four years away from live-action films before she returned with 2014’s Maleficent. Jolie then only made three more live-action flicks in the seven years between Maleficent and Dead.
Some of that occurred because Jolie worked as a director on a few films, but much of her time away from the screen came from her preference to pursue humanitarian goals. I find it hard to fault her desire to use her fame for good causes, even if I missed Jolie as an actor.
Unfortunately, Dead doesn’t become a great showcase for Jolie’s talents, partly because she plays a surprisingly small role. While you’ll find the names of no other actors on the Blu-ray cover art to the left, Jolie’s Hannah doesn’t get as much to do as one might expect.
Undeniably, the promotional material for Dead accentuates Jolie’s presence, and trailers imply that it will mainly follow the efforts of Hannah and Connor to survive. However, the film veers down many other paths and makes Hannah much less prominent anticipated.
This becomes an issue, and not just because the audience expects more Jolie. Dead casts a fairly broad net in terms of characters, and this means that we don’t get to know any of them as well as we should.
Again, Hannah becomes the biggest concern here, though that stems more from the presence of Jolie than anything else. Without all the publicity that surrounds her status in the film, we wouldn’t feel surprised to see as little of Hannah as we do.
However, our Jolie-related expectations don’t turn into the sole issue, as the story itself sets up Hannah in a manner it doesn’t quite fulfill. Since we get decent exploration of her haunted past, we expect Hannah to dominate the narrative, but instead, it spreads itself semi-thin.
As such, Dead can feel somewhat unfocused. If it ran longer, it might find the space to explore the expanded roster of characters, but at a semi-short 100 minutes, it lacks the room it needs to satisfy so many roles.
Because of this, the story jumps around more than it should. We find ourselves stretched across a lot of character and narrative elements, and they don’t click as tightly as they should.
None of these factors make Dead a bad movie, as it manages to create a perfectly watchable experience. A solid cast helps, as we find a strong roster of professionals.
Actually, the most compelling part comes from one I didn’t mention: Allison (Medina Senghore), Ethan’s pregnant wife. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say much, but she steals the show in her limited screentime.
If they make a sequel that focuses on Allison, I’ll buy a ticket. Until then, Dead offers a moderately compelling but somewhat disappointing drama/adventure.