As a story idea, Those Who Wish Me Dead offers up a lot of interesting opportunities, and yet it travels down a path that’s practical and has enough excitement to last for a single movie, even if it builds up tension and doesn’t necessarily deliver in a grand manner. To be fair, it delivered what it needed to and didn’t go for excess, even though forest fires are a continually hot topic, no pun intended. The fire is actually a slightly bigger antagonist than the assassins that are a key part of the story. Hannah Faber, played Angelina Jolie, is a decent example of what can happen to a person when trauma of any kind occurs during a forest fire, as during her time as a smokejumper she had to watch a trio of campers and a member of her team burn up in a massive fire that swept out of control. Her grief was great enough that it caused the type of mental trauma that had her placed in an observation tower as a way to give her something to do without keeping her in the action.
All would be well enough it would appear, despite the fact that Hannah has become a bit reckless as it would appear, a condition that is obvious to witness since she’s too used to being a part of the team and jumping into danger. But when she’s stationed in the tower, it’s obvious that the boredom doesn’t take long to set in, and she would rather be anywhere else. At the same time, Owen, a forensic accountant, learns that his boss, a DA, and his entire family have been killed in what’s being called an accident, and he believes that he’ll be next thanks to a conspiracy he uncovered. He takes his son Connor and runs, doing his best to escape the two assassins, Jack and Patrick, that are on their trail.
The game of cat and mouse doesn’t last long as the two killers find a way to get ahead of Owen and Connor and waylay them as Owen is trying to reach Ethan, his brother-in-law, and the local Deputy Sheriff. instead, their car is driven off the road and down a steep slope where it fetches up against a tree. Owen tells his son to run, as he’s given him the evidence that explains the killings and can bring the guilty to justice. When Owen is killed while Connor hides, Jack and Patrick scour the countryside in their own manner, starting a forest fire to keep the authorities busy and to cause a bit of confusion as they seek out their quarry. Connor ends up finding Hannah but has trouble trusting her until she makes it clear that she’s not there to take care of him. When he does calm down and go with her. Bad luck strikes when a lightning bolt fries the communication tower, however, and Hannah and Connor need to make their way to town on foot. But thanks to the fire that was started, they can’t reach the town without running through the blaze. In the meantime, Jack and Patrick check the home of Deputy Sheriff Ethan and his pregnant wife Allison, and after a harrowing standoff that was meant to allow Jack and Patrick to gather information on where to find the boy, the two assassins take Ethan to look for the boy after promising to kill his wife and unborn child if he doesn’t help.
The long and short of it is that Jack is eventually killed, Patrick faces off against Hannah and Connor as the forest burns around them, Ethan succumbs to his wounds after being shot, and Connor will have to tell the legitimate authorities everything by the time the movie ends. As a pulse-pounding action movie it doesn’t really fire on all cylinders as it lags a bit and, even though the acting is sound and doesn’t detract from the story, it does feel kind of tame given the situation. It’s easy to understand how too much exaggeration of the fire and the assassins could have ruined the overall story, but for some reason or another, it feels as though something was missing in this story.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad movie, since the idea of realism kind of helped things move along in a way that wasn’t that hard to follow. Ethan dying at the end was sad and tragic, but it was better than the miraculous “I can’t believe he survived” trope that tends to be added into so many movies. The argument over whether to go over the top and create a sensationalist movie or keep things ground with the risk of boring the audience would easily apply to this movie. But the fact is that it was enjoyable enough to get into for a while, and it was time well spent.