Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I used to get depressed, mainly because of some bad things I did in my past.  Sure, these things were for the greater good but damn… the torture I go through when I relive these terrible events.  Then some years ago I saw Tony Scott’s ‘Man on Fire’ starring Denzel Washington, a movie that an awful lot of people will argue with you that this is Mr. Washington’s finest film.  Regardless, that film changed my life. I knew that the secret to lifting my depression and finding a new purpose in life was as simple as tracking down an eight year old white girl to protect.   I tried to find one, but… well… let’s just say that didn’t work out too good for me and leave it at that.  Once all that calmed down and they called off the Amber Alerts, I realized I’ll just watch ‘Man on Fire’ when I’m feeling down and feeling the need to protect somebody.

John Creasy (Washington) is not a very happy guy, at present just trying to drown his checkered past in booze, and it’s not working.  Today John is passing through Mexico City to visit an old friend in Rayburn (Christopher Walken), who we believe was in the same line of work as Creasy but has NO problem with what they used to do.  Rayburn has a pretty wife, is surrounded by pretty women in bikinis and even has a couple of kids.  He’s all good.  Still, he wants to see his friend do better so he suggests a job for him.  Kidnappings are rampant in Mexico so bodyguards are in high demand.  Turns out there’s a young man named Samuel (Marc Antony) who could use a bodyguard for his family.  On one hand Creasy is ideal because he has great murder skills, but the on other hand he’s stumbling drunk.  It’s the drunk part that brings him down into Samuel’s price range.

So Creasy meets Samuel, his lovely wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell) and his package in Pita (Dakota Fanning) that he will be charged with looking after.  He tells these people he’s a drunk, but they need somebody, whaddayagonnado?  Creasy does his job to the best of his ability while letting these people know that he isn’t getting paid nearly enough to put his life on the line.  He also does his best to keep Pita at arms length but dang it, that girl just gets under your skin with her terminal cuteness.  Despite Creasy’s best efforts, he is now in fraternal love with this little girl and has completely cleaned up his act… which means it’s now time for her to get taken. 

It was brutal, it was nasty, Creasy did his best but there were too many of them and he almost paid the ultimate price which has left him in a very bad way.  Then when something goes terribly wrong at the ransom exchange leading to a terrible result, Creasy, when well enough, has vowed undying bloody revenge.  One of my favorite two-minute scenes in any movie ever was watching Christopher Walken explain to Giancarlo Gianinni, playing an investigator, how Creasy was going to use his god given gift of death dealing to paint his masterpiece.  A wonderful but simple scene between two old masters shot very simply.  If only the whole movie was like that.  Regardless, Creasy has a masterpiece to paint so if you’re a bad person, plug your butthole if you see him walking by.  It’s complicated, but yeah… plug it up.

Ah… ‘Man on Fire’.  A good movie which probably should’ve been a great movie.  I’m looking at what we’re working with here.  Denzel Washington at the top his game, Dakota Fanning at the cutest point in her life, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Marc Antony, Rachel Ticotin, Mickey Rourke and Radha Mitchell hanging out for outstanding support and lest we forget the Great Tony Scott as our director.  Oh but far be it from to say this, because I love the Scott Brothers, but I’m thinking it’s Tony that keeps ‘Man on Fire’ from achieving the greatness it was destined for.   We mention that scene with Walken and Gianinni because the director allowed the actors to do all the work and he just stayed out of the way.  The rest of the movie however got the Tony Scott ‘Top Gun’, ‘Days of Thunder’ treatment.  Cuts and flashes and pans and more cuts and zooms and shaky cams and camera tricks and editing pyrotechnics… stuff this movie didn’t really need to get the message across that something really bad was about to happen.  Denzel Washington really didn’t need the help because he was conveying that message clearly and concisely with his performance alone.  This one, I’m thinking, needed the same treatment that Mr. Scott gave ‘Crimson Tide’, where he allowed his talented actors and their dire situation to drive the narrative while keeping the Top Gun treatment at a minimum.  And we could also whine about the ending which was a complete and total cop out, but this wasn’t foreign film so that was to be expected.

Nonetheless, ‘Man on Fire’ is still a damn good movie.  Awesome even in a lot of parts.  Those parts being when Creasy is killing or torturing somebody.  Torture is bad, we know this, but these villains were setup so nicely that torture felt appropriate in this instance.  The film does run a little long, but since a lot of this time was dedicated to setting up the relationship between Creasy and Peta in a steady and believable manner, so that we can justify why Creasy is so angry and does what he feels he has to do, and we didn’t mind.  It’s violent, sometimes it’s nasty, and occasionally it’s difficult to watch, but it is very effective. 

All I’m saying in regards to this particular Scott / Washington alliance, this was one instance where a little less probably would’ve added up to a lot more.  ‘Déjà vu’ on the other hand… it worked there.  ‘Man on Fire’ is still a revenge classic in my book, no matter what I might’ve just said.

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