Then Playing — Those Who Wish Me Dead; The Hunt; Repast

Those Who Wish Me Dead (Taylor Sheridan, 2021). Taylor Sheridan’s second feature as a director builds on his oeuvre of Mountain West thrillers. In Those Who Wish Me Dead, Angelina Jolie plays Hannah Faber, a plays-by-her-own-rules somkejumper who’s been given equivalent of desk duty, staffing a watchtower in the wilds of Montana. She gets drawn into protecting a young boy (Finn Little) who is being hunted by the evildoers who killed his father (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant who stumbled on wide-ranging fiscal malfeasance perpetrated by a slew of big-time leaders. Matters are complicated by a raging forest fire started in an attempt to keep the authorities distracted. As was the case his directorial debut, Wind River, Sheridan is dull and straightforward as a visual storyteller but a sure hand as a writer (he is co-credited on the screenplay with Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt, the former also the writer of the novel the film is based on). On balance, that division proves to be acceptable, giving the film the feel of a satisfying potboiler. Jolie invests her role with a tang of natural ease that offers the reminder of her formidable skills as an actress, and Jon Bernthal is very good as a local sheriff who’s on the case of the hired hitmen (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) after the boy. Like Jolie, Bernthal helps ground the film with a live-in performance.

The Hunt (Craig Zobel, 2020). All the phony, proudly uninformed outrage that greeted The Hunt — part of the regular churn of right-wingers’ imaginary persecution — seems extra nonsensical when held against the film itself, a simple revamp of middle-school curriculum mainstay The Most Dangerous Game with clumsy political satire spackled onto it. In this riff, written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, it’s liberals declaring open season on red-capped conservatives. The wailing of the ever-so-fragile Fox watchers is all the more embarrassing because The Hunt reserves its mockery for the lefties, portraying them as bickering reactionaries constantly stumbling over their own sternly drawn boundaries of propriety. The film was made under the Blumhouse flag, and it traffics in all the gory bombast of other entries in the production house’s horror-heavy slate. Despite some occasional zippy flair on the part of director Craig Zobel, the film is more insipid than inspired. At least it has Betty Gilpin in the leading role, wittily underplaying a target with surprising reserves of resourcefulness.

Repast (Mikio Naruse, 1951). Japanese director Mikio Naruse adapted a half dozen novels by Fumiko Hayashi during his career. Repast was the first of these works, and, interestingly enough, based on the final of Hayashi’s works, which was unfinished at the time of her death, just a few months before the film’s release. The story centers on Michiyo (Setsuko Hara), an unhappy housewife in Osaka. With remarkable empathy, especially for the era, Naruse depicts the drudgery and offhand indignities that weigh on Michiyo, and Hara brings poignancy to the character’s craving to regain the sense of self that was far stronger before she became a bride. In the final minutes, the film collapses into conventionality, settling on a moral that asserts that subsuming into spousal anonymity is the only course to true happiness. It was reportedly a studio-dictated conclusion, and it feels like it, obliterating and betraying the intense emotional honesty in every that precedes it.

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