If you haven’t heard the name Taylor Sheridan yet, then you better start paying attention because you have missed out on arguably the best screenwriter in Hollywood today. Sheridan, who started as a TV actor in series such as “Sons of Anarchy” and “Veronica Mars,” has gone on to write some of the best films in the last decade.
In just a few years as a screenwriter, Sheridan’s credits include such award-winning films as “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River” along with fan-favorites “Sicario” and “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” Sheridan’s realistic and gritty writing style makes his films can’t-miss.
This time, Sheridan is back in the directing chair for the first film since 2017’s “Wind River” to co-write and direct a story about a strong female protagonist who fights against steel and literal fire to protect the life of a young boy — but the story isn’t as simple as it seems.
Sheridan has a knack for writing strong protagonists with equally strong antagonists. Jolie excels in one of the best roles she has played in years: a firefighter who is one of the best at her job, but a costly mistake has made her both vulnerable and relatable. On the flip side, you have a pair of killer brothers who have to complete their job no matter how messy it gets. In the game of international espionage, failure makes them just as expendable as their targets.
The characters are realistic, a small group of firefighters who act like your friends and co-workers. Sheridan’s ability to create characters that symbolize small-town Americans rather than demonize or mock them sets him apart in Hollywood. His ability to create small-willed men and women makes his films more relatable to the average viewer without pandering.
The cinematic style and production recall the films of the 1990s or early 2000s, making it stand out and feel more like a throwback to the style of movie Hollywood used to make.
The cast is stellar; there isn’t a single weak performance in the film. Jolie is a standout in her role but so is Jon Bernthal, who plays a small-town cop (Ethan) stuck in a dangerous conflict. Hoult and Gillen are smart bad guys who despite being nearly emotionless assassins display empathy in the grand scheme of the plot.
The only weak spot of the film was the handling of Allison (Medina Senghore), Ethan’s pregnant wife. While Senghore’s performance is good, the plot point of making her a pregnant woman only serves as a device to give the bad guys a reason to not kill her earlier. The decision to make her borderline superhuman with her feats of horseback riding and scaling a tower at six months pregnant serves as the only unbelievable aspect of the film. Her character is the only thing keeping the film from being truly great rather than just good.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” solidifies Taylor Sheridan’s spot as Hollywood’s best modern screenwriter. The industry should take notice of who is the gold standard — nobody writes a better character-driven drama than Sheridan.