When I first heard of this movie, Taylor Sheridan‘s name immediately grabbed me as I think he’s one of the best screenwriters working today. I haven’t seen Angelina Jolie in quite a while either, and it’s been ages since she’s starred in an action thriller. Unlike in Lara Croft, Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Wanted, her character Hannah is no super heroine, though she still displays a huge dose of bad-assery working in a highly dangerous, largely male-dominated job. Hannah is a smokejumpers, specially-trained firefighters who are dropped to remote wildfire sites by parachute to provide the initial attack response. She prides herself as being one of the boys, she even gets her crew to playfully rile against her ex, Sherrif Ethan (Jon Bernthal).
When we find Hannah at the beginning of the movie, she’s suffering from PTSD from a devastating Montana forest fire where she ‘predicted the wind wrong’ and caused the lives of a colleague and three young children who got caught by the fire. She’s now relegated to fire tower duty all by herself in a small enclosed space with no bathroom. Meanwhile, miles away in Florida, a seemingly routine gas leak check turns out to be anything but. I suppose it’s a dead giveaway when you cast British and Irish actors Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen in the roles, even with impeccable American accent, they just don’t cut it as utility workers at all. Next thing we know, a 12-year-old boy Connor (Finn Little) finds himself on the run with his dad Owen (Jake Weber) immediately after Owen discovers that his District Attorney boss’ Florida home has just been blown up. When Connor protests why he didn’t take him to school, all he said was that ‘I’m a forensic accountant which means I look for things that don’t add up. And I found some.’ That piece of information is pretty much all we have, but we could easily guess that it must’ve been an serious enough discovery that could bring down a ton of important political figures and government officials.
The pair of assassins sent to obliterate anyone who knows about the classified info ransack Owen’s home and figure out where they’re heading. Rather than spoon-feeding details about the plot, Sheridan choose to reveal key information through inference. Sheridan’s specialty seems to be in creating slo-burn, neo-Western thrillers and this falls in that category. The chase through Montana’s winding road isn’t bombastically action-packed a la a Bond/Bourne movie but I find it quite suspenseful. The shoot-em-up in the woods is brutal and bloody, though there are certainly more violent scenes on TV these days. Sheridan definitely puts the characters through all kinds of challenging physical situations, especially Hannah and Connor, being chased not just by people but by lightning! At first Jolie still look too glamorous to be even a wee bit believable as a fire fighter, but by the end she’s pretty banged-up!
Performance-wise, while Jolie provides the star power, I’m impressed by the two lesser-known actors here: Finn Little (an impressive Australian young actor in his fourth feature) as Connor and Medina Senghore as Allison, who runs a survival school and later proves her chops why she should get an ‘instructor of the century’ medal. I love that Sheridan doesn’t write her as a damsel-in-distress or worse, a collateral damage. In fact, Allison is quite the scene stealer here with her ability to outsmart the two goons, rifle-shooting, horse-riding, etc. all while being six-moth pregnant! Heck, I think I’m ready to see Senghore in her own action franchise with her own ‘special set of skills.’ Meanwhile, I quite like seeing the Punisher himself Jon Bernthal NOT playing the toughest guy in the pack. He’s actually a charismatic actor in dramatic roles. Casting-wise, find it peculiar to see Hoult and Gillen as the twin assassins, plus there’s also a Tyler Perry cameo!
In terms of script, I feel like it’s been quite a diminishing returns for Sheridan after the phenomenal Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River… writing three solid scripts back-to-back like that is rare. I was disappointed with Without Remorse which he adapted from Tom Clancy’s book and now, it’s another book adaptation by Michael Koryta, albeit a very loose one. I was curious to check out the premise of the 2014 novel and they definitely made quite a bit of changes. Now, I haven’t read the book but I can see how setting the story this way adds that sense of urgency. I’m not sure that using the corrupt government conspiracy plot as the MacGuffin is an effective one though, especially since details are scarce as to what it is exactly Owen uncover that lead to such a vicious pursuit.
Overall I still enjoy the movie despite the flaws. It’s watchable enough with a few moments leaving me at the edge of my seat. The final action scene in a fiery forest features some intense fight sequences, though the ending feels a bit anticlimactic. It seems that Sheridan wants to marry the political conspiracy thriller with a 90s-style disaster flick, which ends up being a half-baked action movie. This is only his third feature so far though, and I think he’s got the chops as a director, so I still look forward to what he’ll tackle next.