AlfredAngier’s review published on Letterboxd:
Alternate title: Things We Lost in the Fire.
This was a truly bizarre movie that confused me based on how Taylor Sheridan seemed to have been making increasingly good films from writing Sicario and Hell or High Water which were both good and then following them up with the great Wind River.
This was so-so bordering on bad.
Then I realized it was based on a book and had three credited screenwriters and things made more sense.
The three connected storylines start by following bizarrely over the top evil hit men played by Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult who start by very subtly blowing up the house of a DA then chase a dad (Jake Weber) and son (Finn Little) across the country before shooting up their car, shooting a woman in the head starting a giant forest fire and torturing a pregnant Black woman (a very good Medina Senghore)
Just another day at the office.
Then there's the very trope heavy character of Hannah (Angelina Jolie) a smoke jumper who is haunted by a jump gone wrong where the winds shifted and she not only lost a fire fighter but also failed to save three young boys trapped in the blaze.
I wonder if she'll have a chance to save another boy in peril thus finding closure and finally being able to move on? (She will)
On the other end of the spectrum there's a much more grounded story following Jon Bernthal as the sheriff/husband of pregnant woman, uncle of boy being chased by bad men, runs a survivalist camp on the side and for some reason is the ex of Jolie (there's literally no reason for them to be anything other than colleagues but whatever)
The first third of the movie is pretty painful with very clunky, exposition heavy dialogue, the broadest strokes for introducing the cast and bad editing with weird cuts and several scenes that last just a few beats too long.
It does strangely get better or at least kept the momentum going and was excellently paced for the last two thirds and I kind of just went with it since once Tyler Perry shows up for one scene I knew it wasn't going to turn into a masterpiece.
I did actually enjoy Perry in his cameo although it mostly just disappointed me because it felt like I'd get the smallest bit of backstory to the hitmen but alas, they are given zero nuance or humanity and are just irredeemably evil.
Bad writing aside the performances were all pretty decent, especially Little who had several highly emotional scenes that could have easily fallen flat but he delivered, although several of his early scenes were cringey but so was everyone else's and that comes down to the aforementioned three screenwriters and being based on a book and having the adapters not know what to tone down for film versus what smaller moments to focus on.
Still, I was entertained especially for the back half and the actors all tried.
Would have been a five star movie if at any point "We Didn't Start the Fire" played either on the radio or over the end credits.
Was also expecting that when Little asks Jolie what happens next she would have looked directly at the camera, winked and said "I've always wanted to adopt" before a fade to black.
Sadly, neither of those things happen so we're left with a sloppily setup 90's era thriller that has a better cast than it deserves and is more enjoyable than I'd like to admit but still isn't exactly good.
Aslo, Jolie's character survives deploying a parachute from the back of a speeding truck, gets serious rope burns on both hands, struck by lightning (yes, really) and then beaten to a pulp but kind of just shrugs it off before limping away. As one does when they're a protagonist.
Also, also, a huge letdown is that we never find out what the hell the hitmen are after Webar for, what information did he have that was worth leaving a giant pile of collateral damage and how is the kid reading a short letter to the news going to protect him and/or expose the multimillionaire trying to kill the kid?
Why didn't the dad just email whatever info he had to the news in the first place?
Those who who wish there were answers to any questions raised in the film about the main plotlines will be left high and dry, which is a prime condition to start a forest fire and is very irresponsible on the part of the filmmakers who should know better.