Man On Fire

Review Date:
Director: Tony Scott
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Producers: Tony Scott, Arnon Milchan, Lucas Foster
Denzel Washington as Creasy
Dakota Fanning as Pita
Christopher Walken as Rayburn
An ex-secret governmental operative has given up on life and is slowly – but very surely – drinking it away. Then one day, his buddy from the old days, who is now living the good life in Mexico, sets him up with a rich family who require a bodyguard for their cute daughter. The dejected man agrees and slowly, but once again – very surely – begins to get back into the game of life. That is until he’s shot, the child is kidnapped and the deeper recesses of his vengeful and violent inclinations return to the surface. Run Mexicans…ruuuuuuuuun!!!
“Shit…but well-polished shit” is what I overheard another film critic mutter about this movie as we strolled out of our screening. I didn’t notice the “shit” myself, but I damn sure noticed the film’s kinetic style, brilliant portrayals and balls-out, gripping and insanely visceral sense of rage, passion and most acutely…revenge! For anyone who thought Frank Castle’s game of musical chairs with fire hydrants was impressive, wait until you see what this veteran of all things terror-related does to his victims when the shit’s on the line. This is what THE PUNISHER should have been and more! Fortunately for us, director Tony Scott took the ball of revenge, a theme that’s in massive “mode” this month, and propelled it to a whole other level with a well-developed emotional base between Washington’s character and Fanning early on, a frantic kidnapping/negotiation scenario, with just the right amount of documentary-style atmosphere and surprises, and a third act to end all third acts with Denzel, his army of guns, his bad-ass attitude and his fierce, unrelenting and vicious nature, providing a full-blown cinematic rave-attack. Scott doesn’t just utilize his complete arsenal of directing tools to emphasize the actions in this film (from slow-motion to fast-motion to filters to super-close-ups to quick cuts, etc…), but bodysurfs that fine line between a solid motion picture with mucho eye-candy and a 2 1/2 hour music video.

Despite my high grade, I still had a few issues with this movie, including its runtime, which could easily have been cut by 20-25 minutes, but at the end of the day, I came out of this flick energized, emotionally drained and a better man for it! Yes, some of the techniques used by Scott are overdone and annoying at times (think SPY GAME x 10!) Yes, Marc Anthony stuck out like a sore cock and should stick to his day job of being the next guy to get dumped by J-Lo. And yes, the cops (much like in THE PUNISHER) didn’t seem to be around much – although it’s much better explained here, since most of them are either “crooked” or “scared of the baddies”-but honestly…those little bits didn’t bother me all too much. Especially since the film’s many great moments kicked my ass, including the sweet relationship developed between Washington and Fanning (a love affair). In fact, take Denzel from TRAINING DAY, add an even bigger chip on his shoulder, along with a penchant for bottles of Jack and Daniels, a dash of psychopathic tendencies and mix it all in a blend of tacky shirts/suits, and you’ve got the ultimate man on fire!!! (yeah, I said it…sue me!) Seriously though, I love Denzel and he continues his brilliant work here as a man on the edge, learning to live again, straddling that black & blue line between death, hell and his every day life. Fanning is also extremely effective as the cutie-pie who manages to get through his gruff exterior and uncover his soul once lost. Her emotional turns also touched me, which tells me that both the actors and the characters, worked. That said, the film changes major gears at the midway point, with the first half concentrating more on the background and establishment of character (read: this might be “too slow” for some people), while the second half concentrates more on the kicking and the assing.

All that said, subtlety has never been, and will never be, director Scott’s strong suit, so if you’re looking for below-the-radar hints at the film’s “symbolism”, look elsewhere. Everything here is on the screen and I mean…big-time!! (see the volcanic mountain brewing, see the bottle of JD sitting next to the bible, see Denzel doing the whole “pool thing” after the little girl gets KN’d…) Christopher Walken also shows up, but does so without his typical over-the-top “Walken style” and is great! He underplays his character and finally gets to show off some of his lesser publicized qualities as an actor. Awesome stuff. The film’s dialogue is also well-written with many quotable one-liners including “Creasy’s art is death and he’s about to paint his masterpiece” and “Forgiveness is between them and God– It’s my job to arrange the meeting.” Fun times! If you’re into “revenge tales” of any kind, I don’t see how this excellent movie won’t blow your nuts clean off. It features solid characterizations, interesting twists and turns, suspense, action, drama and about as many creative ways of accentuating the action as I’ve ever seen. One technique that I didn’t even realize was being utilized was its focus on subtitles, which much like in a comic book, were emphasized and pumped up to reinforce the power and/or urgency of a particular sequence. It worked! I’m telling you, if you want all of your senses brain-fucked for two and a half hours, whilst enjoying a fun, vengeful and ultimately, quite violent tale of a man on the brink of the brink…check this flick out and make sure to bring your own Jack and Coke to the festivities. Go Creasy, go Creasy…!! PS: Radha Mitchell is hot.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

Man on Fire



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