Man on Fire

Tony Scott’s Man on Fire is a 148-minute action film starring Denzel Washington as a washed-up ex-CIA operative John Creasy (yes, it is a horrible last name) who through an old friend (Christopher Walken) finds employment as the bodyguard of a nine year-old girl named Lupita (Dakota Fanning) – but everyone calls her “Pita.” Apparently, Mexico is a dangerous place to go (the film notes that every sixty minutes in Latin America someone is kidnapped…and then the end credits praise Mexico City for being a “special place.” For kidnapping, that is).

Tony is the lesser of the two Scott brothers (Ridley being the other, more critically-renowned one) and his films are characterized by their stylish flourishes and populist appeal (Top Gun is his magnum opus). Man on Fire is a solid action movie marred by outlandish editing and subtitle choices. When characters speak in a different language, the words are displayed directly beside the character (rather than below the scene like normal subtitles) and important words (like names) are emphasized in bold. It’s an interesting technique at first but as film goes on it draws attention away from Denzel’s quest for vengeance. Yes, Mr. Scott, it’s a clever technique. Please just let me watch the movie.

As for the plot, Denzel “Creasy” Washington goes on a rampage after young Pita is kidnapped by Mexican thugs. He brutally proclaims to murder those who profited off of, committed, or planned the crime (and anyone else who may have witnessed, heard, or read about it as well – so pretty much all of Mexico…and part of the U.S. too). And that’s essentially it. Fingers are chopped off in aggressive interrogation techniques, a new meaning is given to the term “explosive hemorrhoids,” and each villain is dispatched of in an increasingly gruesome manner.

Currently, I’ve been watching the second season of 24 and it hampered my enjoyment of Man on Fire a bit. In the television series, interrogation is akin to a game of chess for Jack Bauer. When an informant doesn’t want to talk (and is willing to die for the cause) Bauer is unable to get any information out of them. In Man on Fire, Creasy’s reputation is that he is going to kill everyone. This puts him at a distinct disadvantage in an interrogation situation: if his suspects already know that they are going to be killed – whether or not they reveal information – why not keep their mouths shut? Maybe it’s because of the torture. Maybe.

Plot isn’t something to be criticized when watching a Tony Scott film. His movies are all style and negligible substance. He’s a “junk food” director – we know the stuff is bad for us, but it’s just so damn good. Man on Fire is a middling effort in the Scott canon, mainly because his “style” – hyper-kinetic editing that obscures rather than excites, those ****ing subtitles – distracts from the action on-screen rather than adding to it.

Watching Man on Fire will only cause you to yearn for other (better) Tony Scott flicks like Enemy of the State and Spy Game.

Grade: C-


One Response to Man on Fire

  1. Pingback: MOVIE REVIEW | Man on Fire (2004) – Bored and Dangerous

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