Man on Fire
United States/Mexico; 2004;U.S. Release Date: 4/23/04 (wide), Running Length: 2:12; MPAA Classification: R (Violence, profanity)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Christopher Walke), Giancarlo Giannini, Rachel Ticotin, Jesús Ochoa, Mickey Roarke
Director: Tony Scott; Producers: Arnon Milchan, Tony Scott, Lucas Foster; Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by A.J. Quinnell Cinematography: Paul Cameron; Music: Harry Gregson-Williams U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Review by Brian Finamore @Movie_Fin [email protected]
A year and a half ago, sadly, director Tony Scott committed suicide by jumping off a bridge on a sunny Los Angeles afternoon. By all accounts he was a warm and kind man who had a fantastic relationship with actors. This was the case with Tony Scott and Denzel Washington, who worked together on five films (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Unstoppable). Apparently at the time of Tony Scott's death, Washington and Scott were planning a sixth movie together. Man on Fire was their first collaboration in nine years.
Washington plays a flawed ex Special Forces operative named Creasy. Having trouble coping with his memories and oblivious to any kind of meaningful future, he drifts south of the border to Mexico, where he encounters his old pal Rayburn (Christopher Walken), who hooks him up with a job as a bodyguard. Creasy's charge is simple: protect Pita (Dakota Fanning), the young daughter of a Mexican businessman, Samuel (Marc Anthony), and his American wife, Lisa (Radha Mitchell). Kidnappings are frequent happenings in Mexico, and Pita is a ripe target. Initially, Creasy resists Pita's attempts to make friends, but her charm eventually wins him over, and he takes on a father-figure role. Then, one fateful day, the kidnapping attempt occurs. Creasy takes several bullets and is unable to save Pita. And, while he languishes in a hospital, the transfer of ransom money is botched. When Creasy emerges from the hospital, he has only one goal in mind: kill anyone who was involved in the kidnapping.
I know the last sentence makes this seem like a by the numbers revenge flick but I think Man on Fire is more thoughtful than most revenge based movies. For starters, this film takes it's time getting to the blood and guts and instead builds a wonderful story of how Creasy and Pita get to know each other and become friends. Nothing feels forced and Washington and Fanning play perfectly off each other. There's no sentimentality or schmaltz and you really believe that Creasy finally comes around to caring and even loving (not in a creepy way) Pita. The set up is the best part of the film and this is one of Denzel's best performances.
Most critics agreed with what I just said in the previous paragraph about the building of Creasy and Pita's relationship. Where reviews for this film went sour is when the film turns into a straight up revenge picture, or so the critics said. Most found the violence to be too over the top and pointless, I disagree. Tony Scott pulls no punches with how he films the violence, employing a punk rock music soundtrack (featuring mostly Nine Inch Nails songs) and fast paced, jump cut editing to really push the senses to near overload. I'll admit this style is not for everyone, but I appreciated Scott's determinism to bring something different to a genre film.
Another point critics unfairly labeled on this film is that Creasy's vigilantism is sadistic and amoral. I don't think that's the case at all and the reason most critics felt that way is probably due to the uncompromising way Scott films the violence. I feel Creasy does not take "sadistic pleasure" in the killings since he kills to get information to get to all of the people involved in the kidnapping of Pita Ramos, and does not like harming innocent parties. Creasy is a hurt man with plenty of personal problems due to the toll violence has taken on him over the years. The idea that he would take pleasure in committing the violence goes against who Creasy is.
The film is set in Mexico City and makes brilliant use of the locales and religious figures as symbolism for Creasy's increasingly dangerous trek back to the dark side of humanity. There's a motif in the film of blood and cleansing. After the first two interrogations and murders of the men behind Pita's kidnapping, namely the cutting off of Jorge's finger's in the car and the rave in the night club (truly a descent into hell if their ever was one) Creasy goes swimming. Earlier in the film we see Creasy tutor Pita with her swimming competitions, a big part of their bonding. Each time Creasy jumps into the pool after the murders the water becomes more filled with blood as his body continues to degenerate, and just like his soul, the water becomes increasingly darker. Does Creasy go swimming in order to cleanse his body and soul like a baptism?
Sadly, critics never really bothered to look into these themes and motifs and instead just labeled the film among the crop of revenge films released at the time. I must admit I too didn't really think much of the film upon it's release. It took a few more times, and especially reflecting upon Scott's career after his suicide to notice more of what he and Denzel were trying to go for. Man on Fire isn't quite a masterpiece but I think it's by far one of the most underrated films of the 00's.
Review by Brian Finamore
Memorable Images from Man on Fire
The Making of Man on Fire
Creasy commits to revenge. This scene features Nine Inch Nails "The Mark Has Been Made" a kick ass theme.