Man on Fire (2004)

"Good"

Man on Fire (2004) Review


An overstuffed, pricey, and smashingly gorgeous bag for a variety pack of clichés, Man on Fire represents director Tony Scott taking somewhat of a step backwards after fun, spry thrillers Spy Game and Enemy of the State; but damn if he doesn't try his hardest to make it all mean something.

In the film (a remake of a 1987 flick of the same name) Denzel Washington coasts through his role as John Creasy, your average ex-undercover operative now saddled with a drinking problem and a yen for his own death. His buddy from the bad old days, Rayburn (Christopher Walken), now a wealthy Mexican businessman of ill repute, gets Creasy a job as bodyguard for the nine-year-old daughter of Mexico City industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony). The average parent might have noticed that Creasy might not have been the best man for the job, seeing as he drinks, is temperamental with the daughter, and tries to off himself one lonely night. But the girl herself, Pita (Dakota Fanning), takes to crusty old Creasy anyway, saying to her mother (Radha Mitchell) that "he's like a big, sad bear" and filling her notebook with moony scribblings about how much she loves him. Creasy finally warms up to Pita, an irresistibly personable ball of energy as played by Fanning, who also brings a powerfully adult presence to her scenes with Washington, complementing his character's world-weariness: they're like the only two adults in a world full of corrupt, venal teenagers.

Given that the film is called Man on Fire and not My Bodyguard II: Pita's Happy Adventure, it's inevitable that Pita is going to be taken away from Creasy. And when that happens, it's like the roof of hell got ripped open as Creasy extracts vengeance from anybody even remotely attached to Pita's kidnapping. Although it's pretty standard stuff plot-wise, the depths to which the film will send Creasy on his rampage through a network of petty crooks and powerful, corrupt policemen are darker and queasier than one would expect. Fortunately, the filmmakers knew that to justify this volcanic rage, they'd have to provide a pretty good reason for it, which they did early on with the segments with Creasy and Pita that hover over the rest of the film like a haunting melody.

It's a testament to the strength of the film's actors (a uniformly excellent bunch, with the exception of Anthony, who's sleepwalking) and Scott's powerful visuals that they are able to at all transcend the limitations of the schlocky screenplay by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River), who appears to have made himself a purveyor of Catholic-tinged revenge flicks. Scott ups Helgeland's aura of doomed religiosity - already pretty thick, what with all the Bible quotes, references to St. Jude, and discussions of God's forgiveness floating around - by shooting much of the film in cavernous, cathedral-like interiors. Crucial exchanges are criminally underwritten, though, making several stretches of this overlong film feel like a slog. Helgeland has a tendency to fall back on the hoariest old standards ("she taught him to love again") when he's not making up embarrassing new lows. One scene in particular stands out in its ineptitude: Rayburn is discussing Creasy's vendetta with a Mexican federal agent (Hannibal's engagingly rumpled Giancarlo Giannini) and says, "His art is death, and he's about to paint his masterpiece." It's a laughable line, but at least Walken is there to give it his trademark snap.

Man on Fire is never less than sumptuous visually, Scott having made full use of his fecund Mexico City locations, mixing painterly shots of decayed beauty that recall Amores Perros with his own trademark stuttery expressionism. Although the film's impressive look, the undeniable power of its cast, and Scott's laudable attempt to push the envelope emotionally can't quite overcome the screenplay's limitations, it provides a welcome dose of heart in a month of gimmicky revenge fantasies like Kill Bill: Volume 2 and The Punisher.

The DVD includes two audio commentaries from Scott, Fanning, and various cohorts.

Liar, liar, man on fire.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

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.