Man On Fire

"Weak"

Man On Fire Review


Remove the potent dramatic anchoring effect of Denzel Washington in the title role -- as a guilt-ridden bodyguard reaping retribution on the kidnappers of his young charge -- and "Man On Fire" could have easily deteriorated into the apathetic, stone-faced overkill of a Steven Seagal action movie.

A brooding, violent tragedy about a former assassin who had given up on redemption and resigned himself to the bottle before taking a job in Mexico City guarding a millionaire's daughter, it's a film elevated above archetype by its star's profound, understated depth and by director Tony Scott's determination to take his time giving the story a character-driven soul.

Almost the entire first half of the picture, while underscored with danger and tension, is about the complex devotion that forms slowly (and reluctantly on his part) between CIA washout John Creasy (Washington) and inquisitive, fiercely intelligent, 8-year-old Pita Ramos (the preternaturally talented Dakota Fanning). A sweet little girl with a keen sense of the world around her, she converses with Creasey as her equal and knows enough about daily kidnappings in Mexico City to recognize that when the bodyguard asks her for a pencil while driving her to school, it's to write down the license number of a car tailing them.

Sure, she's interested in puppies and rainbows, but she's far more likely to look Creasy dead in the eyes and ask, "Being black, is that a positive or a negative to being a bodyguard in Mexico?" ("Time will tell," he shrugs.) Try as he might, Creasy can't help but take a shine to the girl, in part because she can see into his heart and is determined to bring out the good in him.

Then comes the shocking abduction. In a flash the little girl is gone and Creasy has six bullets in him. More shocking developments follow, relayed to Creasy in his hospital bed by his oldest friend from his CIA days (Christopher Walken in a perfectly pitched performance of ironic world-weariness) -- and as soon as the man can walk again (still bleeding from a chest wound, no less), he's hell-bent on reprisal. Not superficial, glossy-cool popcorn-flick reprisal (a la last week's "Kill Bill 2" and "The Punisher"), but ugly, merciless, unrelenting, blunt-instrument executions.

Absorbing in its uncommon, penetratingly poignant first half, "Man On Fire" becomes riveting in Creasy's calm, meticulous rage. But gradually it's also undermined by Scott's non-stop, hopped-up-on-crystal-meth-style editing -- an attempt to heighten the film's strong, gritty sense of constant instability and fear. So much of "Man On Fire" is an onslaught of flash-zooms, cut-cut-cuts, freeze-frames and slow-motion (often set to grinding guitars on the soundtrack) that it begins to feels as if the director is deliberately trying to drive the audience to distraction.

The raw emotional authenticity of the drama, and especially Denzel Washington's performance, prevail nonetheless, giving Scott his intended effect in spite of himself (and in spite of the fact that Rhada Mitchell and singer Marc Anthony are oddly distant and lackluster as Pita's parents). But toward the end of Creasy's tear through the street-level Mexican underworld, either Scott ("Spy Game," "Crimson Tide") or screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential," Mystic River") seems to lose confidence in the movie's jagged edge. "Man On Fire" begins capitulating to convention with all the conspiracies, too-obvious "twists," cop-outs and narrative loopholes one would have expected from that Steven Seagal version.

It's also quite transparent that the picture was made for ethnocentric American audiences because, despite revolving around the epidemic of ransom kidnappings in Latin America, this story's victim is played by the blondest, whitest child actor in Hollywood.

Dakota Fanning is a remarkable young actress, but she's also exactly the kind of idealized Caucasian pre-adolescent beauty who dominates the headlines when falling victim to a crime (think JonBenet Ramsey), while less photogenic or minority child kidnapees and murder victims are often lucky to make the front page even once.

This fact does not undermine any of the substance of "Man On Fire," but it is further evidence of the lowest-common-demoninator Hollywood mindset which diminishes the authenticity to which Scott and crew clearly aspired.



Man On Fire

Facts and Figures

Run time: 146 mins

In Theaters: Friday 23rd April 2004

Box Office USA: $77.7M

Box Office Worldwide: $77.9M

Budget: $70M

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Production compaines: Fox 2000 Pictures, Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Epsilon Motion Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Fresh: 62 Rotten: 99

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Creasy, as Pita, as Samuel, as Lisa, as Rayburn, as Manzano, as Mariana, Jesús Ochoa as Fuentes, as Jordan, Angelina Peláez as Sister Anna, as Daniel Sanchez

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Trumbo Movie Review

Trumbo Movie Review

An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton...

Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps Movie Review

Mixing the action, comedy and horror from novelist R.L. Stein's books into a family-friendly package,...

Dad's Army Movie Review

Dad's Army Movie Review

The beloved 1970s British sit-com gets the big screen treatment, although there's been very little...

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight Movie Review

This film demonstrates that you don't need guns to make an exciting thriller. Based on...

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

Not the subtlest director working in Hollywood, Michael Bay brings his surging machismo to this...

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

There's nothing clever about this deliberately rude and vulgar comedy, but certain audiences will find...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

Advertisement
The 5th Wave Movie Review

The 5th Wave Movie Review

Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels...

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following...

Room Movie Review

Room Movie Review

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events...

Creed Movie Review

Creed Movie Review

While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps...

A Perfect Day Movie Review

A Perfect Day Movie Review

An irreverent comedy in the style of the original M.A.S.H., this wartime romp takes an...

Partisan Movie Review

Partisan Movie Review

With his feature debut, young Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman tells a creepy story about a...

The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant Movie Review

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as...

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who simply can't be ignored, especially when he lobs a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.