Published On: Fri, May 14th, 2021

BRIAN VINER reviews Those Who Wish Me Dead 

Those Who Wish Me Dead (15)

Rating:

Verdict: For she’s a Jolie good fellow

The Secrets We Keep

Rating:

Verdict: Derivative thriller

Some Kind Of Heaven

Rating:

Verdict: Funny, sad documentary

To believe in the almost impressively porous plot of Those Who Wish Me Dead, you have first to believe in Angelina Jolie as a ‘smoke-jumper’, a specialist firefighter who parachutes out of planes to deal with rampaging forest blazes

To believe in the almost impressively porous plot of Those Who Wish Me Dead, you have first to believe in Angelina Jolie as a ‘smoke-jumper’, a specialist firefighter who parachutes out of planes to deal with rampaging forest blazes

To believe in the almost impressively porous plot of Those Who Wish Me Dead, you have first to believe in Angelina Jolie as a ‘smoke-jumper’, a specialist firefighter who parachutes out of planes to deal with rampaging forest blazes.

Then you have to buy the idea that Jolie’s character, Hannah, the only woman in a close-knit band of alpha males, might be the loudest, wittiest and hardest-drinking of them all, able to parry the merest hint of a suggestive remark with a wisecrack like a punch to the windpipe.

Hannah has lips and cheekbones like no smoke-jumper in living memory, but her macho colleagues have evidently been trained not to notice them. 

If they do, they will surely dive into an inferno far worse than was ever ignited by a carelessly tossed cigarette end.

Unfortunately, beyond the laddish banter, all is not well with Hannah. She is assailed by post-traumatic guilt, blaming herself for the loss of three young lives, having failed to suss the wind direction.

Now, you’d think that her inevitable redemption, amid loads of terrifying footage of fires raging through Montana’s forests with incredible, devastating swiftness — just 50 yards slower than Hannah’s top sprinting speed, in fact — might be enough to sustain Taylor Sheridan’s thriller.

But no. It is an adaptation of Michael Koryta’s novel of the same name, which means another weighty layer of plot involving a nosy accountant on the run from two ruthless assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult, perpetuating the curious Hollywood rule that villains, even when they’re given American accents, generally have to be played by actors from our side of the Atlantic, not theirs).

All we know is that the poor chap has passed his seismic secrets, on an old-fashioned piece of paper almost as if the internet age never happened, to his cute 12-year-old son, Connor (Finn Little)

All we know is that the poor chap has passed his seismic secrets, on an old-fashioned piece of paper almost as if the internet age never happened, to his cute 12-year-old son, Connor (Finn Little) 

Anyway, the accountant has discovered something so incriminating that the assassins seem prepared to commit mass murder, to torture a pregnant woman and to burn down half of Montana to stop it getting out. We never learn what it is.

All we know is that the poor chap has passed his seismic secrets, on an old-fashioned piece of paper almost as if the internet age never happened, to his cute 12-year-old son, Connor (Finn Little).

So, in a dispiritingly tinny echo of Peter Weir’s 1985 classic Witness, the baddies’ target becomes the kid. 

Can Hannah, into whom Connor unsurprisingly bumps while belting through a forest, save him? Heck, can she also save the forest? Well, it’s Angelina Jolie, so anything is possible.

The same is not so of Sheridan, whose credits include some terrific films (he scripted 2016’s Hell Or High Water, one of my favourite modern-day westerns). Alas, my high hopes for this movie when I saw his name attached as director and co-writer were soon extinguished, leaving just a small, gently smouldering pile of expectations.

The Secrets We Keep is another ropy thriller, set in Eisenhower-era smalltown America

The Secrets We Keep is another ropy thriller, set in Eisenhower-era smalltown America

The Secrets We Keep is another ropy thriller, set in Eisenhower-era smalltown America. 

Noomi Rapace plays Maja, a Romanian immigrant leading a wholesome suburban life with her kindly doctor husband (Chris Messina) and their young son, until the day she thinks she spots the former SS man who raped her and murdered her sister towards the end of the war, awakening terrible memories.

This fellow, Thomas (Joel Kinnaman), turns out to be a European immigrant like her, but Swiss with a record of having worked throughout the war as a clerk in Zurich.

Maja is certain he’s lying, and by now has done what anyone would do in her circumstances (if only in films like this); belting him in the face with a hammer, bundling him into the boot of her car, and keeping him prisoner in the basement until he confesses to his crimes.

Her nice husband is understandably more than a little nonplussed by all this, while Thomas’s sudden disappearance sends his own wife frantic with worry.

As Those Who Wish Me Dead is to Witness, so is The Secrets We Keep to Roman Polanski’s 1994 film Death And The Maiden, dimly resonant but not remotely comparable. It is a thriller fatally devoid of thrills, and the occasional tension feels manufactured.

At one point, writer-director Yuval Adler allows his camera to rest on a cinema showing Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. Presumably, his intention is to fix the year as 1959. But the effect is to remind us of a filmmaker who knew how to electrify rather than anaesthetise an audience.

Ironically, the new release least likely to have you slumping on the sofa is Some Kind Of Heaven, a documentary about the world’s largest retirement community.

There are 130,000 residents of The Villages, in Florida, which is billed as ‘Disneyland for retirees’.

Lance Oppenheim’s film follows a few of them, as well as an elderly rascal who lives elsewhere but hangs out there on the lookout for affluent widows. He had no joy in the bars or the churches but found rich pickings at the swimming pools, in pursuit of his own inflatable version of the American Dream.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is in cinemas from Monday. The Secrets We Keep is on Sky Cinema; Some Kind Of Heaven on digital platforms, from today.

Time to make a date with King Kong at your cinema.. 

Much fun was poked at Frances McDormand’s on-stage ululations at the Academy Awards last month, but she let rip a quieter, yet much more resounding, cry when she appealed for people to go to cinemas to watch this year’s Best Picture, Nomadland; the film that also won her a third Best Actress Oscar.

I don’t suppose her cri de coeur played very well with the folk at Disney Plus, the home-viewing platform on which Nomadland has been available since April 30. But it must have sounded like sweet music to the beleaguered cinema industry.

From Monday, UK cinemas are reopening — those that have survived the latest lockdown and are able to re-impose social-distancing measures. Most of the films nominated for Best Picture will be available in the multiplexes, among them Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland (★★★★✩), which I didn’t adore as much as some, but is the big-hearted tale of an impoverished widow who, without a shred of self-pity, becomes an economic migrant in her own country. It is definitely worth seeing on a big screen.

I also recommend Sound Of Metal (★★★★✩), about a heavy-metal drummer who goes deaf, for its warmth and observational excellence, and stunning performances by a pair of Brits playing Americans, Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke.Judas And The Black Messiah (★★★★✩) is also superbly done; see it for yet another transplanted Brit, Daniel Kaluuya, who won an Oscar for his performance as 1960s Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

I’m in a minority regarding another Oscar-winner, Minari (★★★✩✩), the story of an immigrant Korean family in 1980s Arkansas. I thought it sweet but overrated.

I wasn’t wild about Godzilla vs Kong (★★★✩✩) either, but if you’re looking for a film that suits cinemas more than any other, that would be a good one to celebrate the unveiling — at long, long last — of the silver screen.

B.V.

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