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Despite all my rage.

May 23, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Denzel Washington.

Cons:Zero originality.

The Bottom Line: Got an angry desire/Oh oh oh Denzel's on fire.

When you attach the name Tony Scott to a movie, you know going in that you're going to have a lot of explosions and fights. But attach the name Brian Helgeland to the script and you know that it's not going to be ordinary explosions and fight scenes you see. And when you put Denzel Washington in the lead role, you know it's going to be more than just another cookie cutter Vin Diesel hack job.

That's the case with Scott's Man On Fire. The story is nowhere near being original, yet the dialogue and a superb performance by Washington help raise it above the ranks of the ordinary. Factor in the good action scenes directed by Scott (who knows how to direct good action scenes) as well and the result is a Porterhouse Steak instead of a Hardee’s “hamburger”. In other hands, the result would have been mediocre at best, yet these masters make this Man On Fire burn brightly enough to reach the level of good.

Washington is the main reason for this film’s success. In the lead role of former CIA op turned bodyguard to the daughter of a wealthy Mexican industrialist (Dakota Fanning) John Creasey, Washington gives us a hard-bitten yet caring character. He begins the film as a curmudgeon with a drinking problem. Fanning is the one who melts his cold exterior. Yet he still has a short fuse when it comes to bad guys. And when those bad guys kidnap his charge, the fuse ignites and heaven help anyone in his way.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Robert DeNiro was the first choice for the role of Creasey and Bruce Willis was also considered. The filmmakers were right to wait for Washington. Not to knock on the talents of DeNiro or Willis. But with DeNiro, the performance would have gone over the top. Even in his angry moments, Washington knows just the right level of restraint. And with Willis, it would have been just another generic Bruce Willis action flick (like 97% of his non Die Hard action movies).

I've always contended that Washington can give a good performance even in a mediocre movie (The Siege, Virtuosity) as well as make a movie that would have otherwise been mediocre (Training Day) good. Man On Fire falls into the latter category thanks to Washington's effectiveness. We see him run the gamut of emotions from suicidally depressed to learning to care again to love life again to outright fury at those who want to take life. Give points also to Helgeland (who penned Mystic River and the Mel Gibson revenge actioner Payback) for writing the Creasey character well.

Fanning and Christopher Walken as Creasey's buddy also give good performances and other good supporting actors include Rachel Ticotin as a journalist who helps Creasey in his quest for vengeance and Radha Mitchell as Fanning's terrified mother. The one weak link in the acting department is pop singer Marc Anthony as Fanning's industrialist father.

The story, while unoriginal, is engrossing and Helgeland's dialogue is also pretty good. But most action junkies will see MOF for the adrenaline rush and on that count it does not disappoint. The movie is VERY violent and there is a moment involving Creasey and a crooked cop where the violence reaches Tarantino levels. Of amusement that is.

What is also good about the film is the way Helgeland didn't try and shoehorn a completely happy ending in. While an upbeat ending would have been idealistic, it would have been wrong for this movie, which is about Creasey coming to grips with his violent life.

The other main drawback to the film (besides the unoriginality) is the editing. Scott uses an MTV type of filming here. For instance, he flashes between scenes while Creasey interrogates a villain at a rave. Done occasionally, this effect can work well. But done too much it can become disorienting. Scott unfortunately is more liberal than conservative in his use of it.

Man On Fire isn't the most original film on screen today nor is it quite up there with Washington classics such as Glory. But it's a far better than average action flick that's easily one of the better thrillers out there.

Recommend this product? Yes

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John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a lost soul. A former government operative, he has become an alcoholic nomad, searching for inspiration and redempt...
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