Aidan Gillen probably is best known as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish from “Game of Thrones.”
There’s a reason for that.
Calculating and ruthless, brainy brothel owner Baelish used his keen intelligence to manipulate his way into power. Like Hannibal Lecter, Baelish wasn’t physically imposing, yet he created tension every time he was on the screen because you knew he was always scheming and always ready to strike at any moment.
It takes a special actor to conjure up that brand of intimidation, and Gillen is just that kind. Whether the Irish Gillen is playing a cynical doctor (“Calvary”) or a gypsy leader (“Peaky Blinders”), you can always see the wheels turning. There’s always a keen mind at play.
So even though the thriller “Those Who Wish Me Dead” (R, 100 minutes, in theaters and on HBO Max) stars Angelina Jolie, and is clearly a vehicle for her, and she’s good in it, Gillen’s the one who makes the greatest impact in the movie. He plays a contract killer who, along with his partner (Nicholas Hoult), is tracking a young teen to dispose of him (never mind why). Generally, the kind of assassin Gillen plays is a stock character, but he makes the role something more, because this killer is so smart, and so sinister. (Hoult complements Gillen’s character well by playing a more mechanical hitman.)
Jolie plays Hannah Faber, a “smoke jumper,” one of a team that parachutes into harm’s way to fight forest fires in the wilds of Montana. This type of work takes a special kind of daredevil, and Hannah fits right in, though she’s currently suffering tremendous guilt because she miscalculated the wind direction of a recent blaze and was unable to save the lives of three youths.
She gets an unexpected — unexpected for her, not for us — chance to redeem herself by saving the kid (Finn Little). And while she tries to save the boy from the baddies, she also must contend with — surprise! — another raging fire.
It’s all fairly standard, and predictable, stuff, including Hannah’s guilt-induced flashbacks. But the film, directed by Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River”), does have its virtues: suspenseful action; not one, but two badass female characters (Hannah and a local sheriff’s pregnant wife, played by Medina Senghore); a strong sense of setting; and Jolie’s convincing work as a multi-layered character who’s tough, but with a good heart.
Plus, Gillen is just so much fun to watch. *** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and music producer Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/). He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.