Film reviews: Those Who Wish Me Dead | The Human Voice | Some Kind of Heaven

Those Who Wish Me Dead should have been a chance for Angelina Jolie to excel in a tough-but-tender protector role, but instead the film gets tangled up in a dramatically inert subplot, writes Alistair Harkness

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead (15) **

The Human Voice (15) ***

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Some Kind of Heaven (N/A) ****

The Human Voice

Starring Angelina Jolie and co-written and directed by Sicario and Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, Those Who Wish Me Dead starts with a honking cliché and pretty much goes downhill from there. The opening in question features Jolie as an action-junkie firefighter failing to save the lives of three kids in a forest inferno – an event we quickly realise has become a recurring nightmare thanks to the way the scene is interrupted by a sharp cut to her sitting bolt upright in bed, sweating and screaming the way no human has ever done in real life. The character’s PTSD and redemption-seeking arc groaningly established, the film proceeds to set up a by-the-numbers, yet preposterous, thriller as a couple of ruthless hitmen (Aiden Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) assassinate a forensic accountant for reasons the film loses interest in yet fail to eliminate his 12–year-old son, forcing them to track the kid through a forest they proceed to set on fire to distract attention from their own ineptitude.

Luckily the boy, played by Finn Little, runs into Jolie’s Hannah, who may have been demoted to fire-tower duty after failing her psych evaluation, but now has something to prove to herself and knows how to negotiate the perils of lightening storms and wildfires.

As silly as this sounds, this could actually have worked as a kind of high-stakes, survival movie riff on John Cassavetes’ Gloria, with Jolie perfectly suited to doing a kind of amped-up, tough-but-tender protector role in the Gena Rowlands mould, albeit with her own off-kilter magnetism giving it an edgy blockbuster kick. Sadly, that aspect of the film is repeatedly diminished by Sheridan’s tin-eared dialogue and unfocused storytelling, which spends far too much time setting up a dramatically inert subplot involving Jon Bernthal’s sheriff and his pregnant wife (Medina Senhorne) that distracts from the bond Jolie should be developing with her young co-star.

Based on a play and only 30 minutes long, Pedro Almodóvar’s The Human Voice isn’t exactly the cinematic feast one might have hoped for given the project – which is playing exclusively in cinemas as they re-open – marks both the Spanish auteur’s first film in the English language and his first collaboration with Tilda Swinton. Instead it’s perhaps best to think of it as a kind of cinematic tapas, there to whet the appetite of arthouse lovers sick of watching everything at home (screenings will be accompanied by a pre-recorded Q&A with Almodóvar and Swinton).

Some Kind of Heaven

Not that cinema should be defined by running time of course. Indeed there’s much for fans to enjoy here, starting with Swinton as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (the Jean Cocteau play from which The Human Voice has been freely adapted actually provided some inspiration for Almodóvar’s 1988 international breakthrough Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). As a jilted lover going a little crazy in the luxury apartment she recently shared with her now-departed beau, Swinton makes us privy to a one-sided phone conversation in which her character spins lies about how well she’s doing while emotionally disassembling before our eyes. Almodóvar reflects her mental state by gradually breaking the fourth wall to reveal the artifice of her ultra-stylised abode, a trick he pulled off with more aplomb in the finale to his last full length feature, Pain & Glory, but remains effective enough here. The end result is slight but never trite.

Playing like a weird counterpoint to Nomadland, Lance Oppenheim’s absorbing documentary Some Kind of Heaven immerses us in the Disney World-like environs of "The Villages” – a Florida retirement community that sells itself as a kind of nostalgic nirvana where you can live out your golden years in a palm-tree-infused bubble of positivity. As with all utopian ideals, though, there’s a darker, more complicated underbelly as the aspirational artificiality of America’s largest retirement community (it has 130,000 residents) comes up against the messy reality of human existence.

Zeroing in on three official residents and one elderly, van-dwelling interloper, Oppenheim builds a fascinating, somewhat surreal portrait of the different pressures a community like this can exert on individuals that don’t necessarily fit the mould of wealthy retirees content with being on permanent vacation. Recent widower Barbara, for instance, pines for her old life in Boston but has burned through her savings in the 11 years she’s been here and has to reckon with her new-found loneliness while also working full time. Anne and Reggie, meanwhile, have been married 47 years, but the long-suffering Anne is becoming increasingly worried that her husband is using the place as an excuse to indulge his eccentricities, among them a recently acquired dependency on recreational and hallucinogenic drugs.

Then there’s the aforementioned, interloper, Dennis, who exploits the lax security (“It’s a community with gates, not a gated community,” says an elderly security guard, cheerfully) in order to hang around the bars and the swimming pools trying to meet rich women whom he makes no pretence about wanting to sponge off. All human life is here, in other words, and Oppenheim’s ability to capture just a sliver of it in such an artful and empathetic way reinforces how life never loses its ability to surprise, even as the end approaches.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is in cinemas from 17 May; The Human Voice is in cinemas from 19 May (tickets from www.thehumanvoicefilm.co.uk), Some Kind of Heaven is available on demand via www.dogwoof.com from 14 May

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