Fire burns things down to their core elements. Hannah (Angelina Jolie) was once caught in the flames, and it nearly destroyed her. Once a fearless smoke jumper, she still puts on a show around her coworkers. But when sitting alone in a Montana fire tower, she’s grieving her losses and fighting her reckless and self-destructive tendencies.
Connor’s (Finn Little) life is also burning down around him. On an ordinary morning, his dad Owen (Jake Webber) hears on the news that a husband and wife died in a tragic furnace explosion. Knowing that it was no accident, and that he’s next for having once “done the right thing” in connection with the murdered couple, he grabs Connor and starts driving for Montana.
As they near their destination, the car is suddenly riddled with bullets, and Owen veers off the road and down a steep embankment. Before he dies, Owen presses a letter in Connor’s hand instructing him to get the letter to the media. Now he’s on the run in unknown territory, playing a cat-and-mouse game with a pair of ruthless assassins, Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult).
When Connor and Hannah first cross paths, he doesn’t trust her and she’s tempted to let him go. But as their situation grows more dangerous, a bond forms between the lost child and survival expert. Meanwhile, in an effort to distract the authorities from their hunt, Jack sets the forest ablaze.
Those Who Wish Me Dead offers nothing we haven’t already seen. Like The Little Things, cut out the language and gore, and this is the movie your dad falls asleep to on Sunday afternoon. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad movie. Director Taylor Sheridan has a reputation for making engaging and entertaining modern-day westerns, and he does so here.
Like the plot, the characters are familiar. Owen is an admirable dad. Connor, despite a foul mouth, is a decent kid. Jack and Patrick are evil incarnate. Hannah, beneath all the hurt, is strong, capable, and feminine. The letter is just the engine that keeps them moving. Whatever’s in it is never explained, nor are we expected to care.
This is a film that deserved to be seen on a big screen, and it’s a pity that few people will. The aerial shots of Montana are majestic, and the climax in the eye of the fire is beautiful and terrible.
In the end, the characters are defined and refined by the fire. Good stories do that, though not usually so literally. Still, the purifying process is terrifying and necessary, burning away everything that hides who they truly are and reminding us that sometimes God also tests us as gold is tested. Thankfully, like the lost and helpless Connor, we don’t have to face the fire alone. At the same time God talks through the prophet Zechariah about the refining fire (Zechariah 13:9), he reminds us to call on his name and promises he will answer. (Warner Brothers)