THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD. I put a lot of stock in Taylor Sheridan. His screenplays for Sicario (2015), Hell or High Water (2016) and Wind River (2017) — the last of which was his directorial debut — describe a reverence, healthy fear and morbid fascination with the New American West. His work encompasses the vastness of its setting, while simultaneously distilling the human transgressions happening there into taut, often disturbing survival dramas of the highest order. He has tapped into something at once exceedingly modern and deeply arcane — distinctly American, in other words — and rendered it as compelling, intelligent storytelling. I'm not alone in my fandom: Hollywood seems to be calling on Sheridan more and more. In this case, as a script doctor turned director and persuader of perhaps reluctant star Angelina Jolie. In another, he is co-credited as a writer on Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, which we'll get to momentarily.
Industry bona fides aside, it has been Sheridan's name, even more than the compelling casting and boy-catnip Montana murder-story structure, that has had me eagerly anticipating Those Who Wish Me Dead for all these months (pandemic weeks? years?). And while it does not disappoint, it doesn't deliver the same somehow-soothing charge of degradation and violent redemption as his previous work. This may be down to its being an adaptation of a Michael Koryta novel and a project for which Sheridan was brought in as a hired gun. It may be due to the changing landscape of cinema at large, or the fact that everything has been painfully weird for a year and half and it's difficult to re-calibrate. By most standards, the movie succeeds mightily: an old-school action thriller with a terrific cast and somehow both new and familiar scenario and setting, absent dull moments or missteps. It feels of a piece with the Sheridan canon but perhaps not essential.
In brief, forensic accountant Owen (Jake Weber) who has seen too much and shared his knowledge with others, flees Florida with his adolescent son Connor (Finn Little), certain of his impending death. They are pursued by a very competent team of killers (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) who appear to be backed by nearly unlimited resources. Father and son make it all the way to Montana, where they hope to be protected by Owen's late wife's brother Ethan (Jon Bernthal), a sheriff's deputy who, with his wife, Allison (Medina Senghore), also operates a survival school. The plan is derailed, Connor falls under the care of a troubled smoke-jumper named Hannah (Jolie) and the assassins set a forest fire to distract from their movements. As the blaze consumes the landscape, the unlikely group of protagonists are set against both human enemies and fire as symbol of human violence.
Jolie does subtler work than some eyes may differentiate, and it's largely due to her reluctant camaraderie with Little's Connor that the narrative sustains. Gillen and Hoult are chillingly effective and I've made it clear I'll show up for Bernthal anytime.
Sheridan gambles on a bigger, glossier aesthetic here than in Wind River, perhaps due to more money and time. Overall, the look suits the material. The fault, I would say, is in a story that may have started life as something less incisive and honed than Sheridan's original work. (Apologies to Koryta, as I've never read him.) For whatever reason, Those Who Wish Me Dead, while full-blooded and consummately watchable, feels like outer-ring Sheridan, which still sets it above most of what we're likely to see in coming months. R. 100M. BROADWAY, HBOMAX, MILL CREEK.
TOM CLANCY'S WITHOUT REMORSE. Just a few passing words here, as I get the impression that most viewers have already decided whether they'll see a movie with Clancy's name on it. Again, Sheridan's name is attached here and it displays some of his trademark violence and instincts. Interestingly, it also re-unites him with Stefano Sollimo, who directed the sequel Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018), which I thought was better than most gave it credit for.
Michael B. Jordan stars as a Navy SEAL whose team is visited by tragedy after becoming unwittingly embroiled in an international incident that could ignite a third world war. So, in high Clancy fashion, he must rise to the occasion as the unkillable one and avert global crisis.
It's pretty good, if you like this sort of thing. The action is exceptionally well choreographed and there seems to be a sequel in the works. R. 109M. AMAZON.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW. A.J. Finn's novel (same title) was one of the big literary lies of the last decade. I read it and saw it as a paint-by-numbers cash-in of the better, more legitimate Girl-Who/Woman-Who thrillers preceding it. I won't belabor it; there's an excellent New Yorker piece on the subject.
The surprise, then, is that one of our more talented directors Joe Wright (Darkest Hour in 2017, Hanna in 2011) would sign on, even given a screenplay by the formidable Tracy Letts and one of the most astonishing casts in recent memory. Maybe he was intrigued by the idea of turning the thing into a paean to Hitchcock by way of DePalma (their fingerprints are all over this thing). I'll never know. The movie, though — about a woman in a window but more about murder and grief in a ham-fisted, dumbfounding sort of way — is messy and lurid where the book tried to be compact. Both seem derivative and, while I wanted to enjoy the former in grindhouse, guilty pleasure way, are perhaps equally frustrating. R. 100M. NETFLIX.
ARMY OF THE DEAD. Director Zack Snyder sends Dave Bautista and Ella Purnell to Las Vegas to fight zombies. R. 148M. BROADWAY
COUNTER COLUMN. A white, devout Christian and a Latinx drug dealer meet in basic training. Did we just become best friends? PG13. 98M. BROADWAY.
DEMON SLAYER: MUGEN TRAIN. Revenge-minded, supernatural anime. R. 117 Min. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
FINDING YOU. Violinist meets movie star for Instagram-friendly romance. PG. 115M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
GODZILLA VS. KONG. Team Godzilla. I said what I said. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY.
MORTAL KOMBAT. Epic opener with Hiroyuki Sanada followed by a hot mess of meh gore. R. 150M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
PROFILE. A journalist is in over her head after connecting with an ISIS recruiter on Facebook. Thanks, Zuckerberg. R. 105M. BROADWAY.
RAYA & THE LAST DRAGON. Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina in an animated fantasy adventure with Southeast Asian vibes. PG. 112. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SCOOB! Zoinks, another animated trip in the Mystery Van with those meddling kids. PG. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW. It says "Saw," so you know what you're in for. R. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
WRATH OF MAN. Jason Statham stars as an armored truck company employee who's up to something. R. 118M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.