It’s burning in Hollywood. In other words, in a figurative sense. There is an emphatic demand that actresses and minorities finally be treated equally in awarding prizes and casting roles. What used to work well – for example, action movies with a tough, white guy in the lead role, who throws out sexist sayings and tolerates blacks or women next to him only in marginal roles – is no longer imaginable today. A new, equal Hollywood is to be created, with equal opportunities for all, without sexual assault and latent racism. “Alright,” actor and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan must have thought. “Sounds like a job for a cowboy like me.”
Sheridan is a kind of spiritual successor to Clint Eastwood, only with a less distinctive face. His first appearance as an actor was in 1995 in “Walker, Texas Ranger” alongside Chuck Norris and in the biker series “Sons of Anarchy” he played a deputy in more than 20 episodes. For a few years now, he has also been fighting behind the camera with great success for law and order. The screenplay for the drug thriller “Sicario” earned him an Oscar nomination in 2015 and for “Wind River” he was awarded the directing prize in Cannes in 2017.
Originally, as an expert on robust Americana stories, he was only supposed to rewrite the script of the firefighting thriller “They Want Me Dead”. But he must have felt called to make a kind of example of classic Hollywood action cinema with this film, took over the direction and brought Angelina Jolie on board for the leading role.
Angelina Jolie plays the tough action hero and the role of the woman in need gets a man
Sheridan’s plan for the extinguishing work in Hollywood probably looked like this: Just do everything as usual, but – Attention, now it comes! – with reversed gender roles. Ingenious idea: Angelina Jolie plays the tough action hero and the role of the woman in need, who somehow has to be saved on the side, gets a man. It’s best to have a hood like Jon Bernthal, who is known as a weapon-staring brutalo from “The Walking Dead” and “The Punisher”, so great contrast.
Only one problem remains: In the film, Angelina is supposed to play a firefighter who fights forest fires in the wilderness. Like now? Far and wide no fights and firearms? It’s boring. However, classic action cinema also developed a solution to this problem as early as 1993. The climbing film “Cliffhanger” with Sylvester Stallone was spiced up without further ado by releasing a few criminals armed to the teeth in the mountains. Okay, that also works in the forest, the filmmakers must have thought about Sheridan, and if he still burns: all the better.
For Angelina Jolie, such action spectacles are not a new experience. At the latest since her role as the male fantasy Lara Croft, she specialized in films with riot potential. As a director, she recently tried to shed this image – among other things with a documentary about the violence of the Khmer Rouge against children in Cambodia and with a feature film about the Bosnian war. So is “They Want Me Dead” a step backwards? Not quite. Although the filmmakers apparently couldn’t help but notice that Jolie has to change clothes in front of the camera, her role is a bit more serious than that of Lara Croft.
Firefighter Hannah is a smoke jumper, people who parachute into forest fires and then contain the fire on the ground. Of course, hollywood just can’t do that. Hannah is traumatized because she failed to rescue a group of hikers from the flames during one of her last missions. But she gets a chance to come to terms with this trauma: A boy, to whom his dying father has entrusted some secrets, wanders through her forest and urgently needs help. Because a criminal organization wants to get hold of these secrets and kills everyone it gets to see. Together with Jon Bernthal as a policeman and his tough, heavily pregnant wife, Jolie wrestled in the undergrowth with two forest fire-laying killers until she is as badly beaten as bruce Willis in the “Die Hard” films. Nothing more happens, with such things as the motivation of the characters or an arc of suspense, the film does not last long.
The question arises whether this is now emancipation, because the film obviously wants nothing more than to illustrate the unoriginal thesis that women can also be action heroes. But where is the progress, if Jolie demonstrated this more than 20 years ago as Lara Croft with somewhat more erotic undertones, but identical in the matter? And is it enough to simply swap the sexes and still continue to make films as before? If Hollywood wants to reinvent itself, new ideas must also be given a chance in terms of film and content. Because a thesis alone does not make a good film.
Those Who Wish Me Dead, USA 2021 – Director: Taylor Sheridan. Book: Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan. Camera: Ben Richardson. With: Angelina Jolie, Jon Bernthal, Nicholas Hoult. 100 minutes, on Sky.