Man On Fire


Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by:Brian Helgeland
Starring: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Christopher Walken
Released: August 5, 2004
Grade: B+

Very little about the past of John Creasy (Washington) is revealed to us but he looks a tired, forlorn figure.  Continually drinking, John has made his way to Mexico City to visit Rayburn (Walken), a long time friend.  Rayburn wants to help out and recommends Creasy for a low paying body guard position for a wealthy family.

You see, in Latin America, kidnappings are a very common occurrence.  The seedy underworld targets the rich and susceptible and can hold family members hostage for exorbitant amounts.  Businessman Samuel Ramos (Anthony) has a 9-year-old daughter, Pita (Fanning), who he wants protected after he and his wife (Mitchell) interview John Creasy, the position becomes filled.

You sense this isn’t a job or a place Creasy wants to be.  He looks disinterested and whilst doing his job with precision, the sense is that he’s going along with it to get enough money to keep on boozing.  But as the weeks pass, Creasy mellows to Pita and for the first time in a long time, life has a purpose.

The crux of the story arrives when Pita is kidnapped in a bloody shootout and Creasy is left for dead.  Whilst unconscious in hospital, the ransom drop is botched and Pita is killed.  When Creasy awakes to learn of this, there’s only one thing in his mind – revenge.  As Rayburn so eloquently phrases it “Creasey's art is death, and he's about to paint his masterpiece.”

So after the long-winded introduction, the film takes on its more interesting side.  It is extremely violent in places but I found particular pleasure in watching Denzel clean out the streets.  I guess you could be critical of its realism – how one person could do all this is beyond me? – but it’s still an entertaining good vs. evil story whilst building towards an unforseen climax.

The story does have its limitations but the standout quality of the film for me was the direction of Tony Scott (Spy Game, Crimson Tide, Top Gun).  The colours are sometimes grainy and there’s a lot of fast paced editing but it looks very good.  He is one of the few action directors I have seen of late to show any creativity.  My favourite trait of the film was its unique subtitles.  They appear randomly throughout (even if English is being spoken) and appear in a variety of fonts in a variety of places on the screen.  Some may be annoyed by this but I found it all the more appealing.

At 146 minutes, Man On Fire is too long but if you can push your way through the first hour, a creative action thriller will be your reward.