Man on Fire (DVD, 2005, 2-Disc Set, Deluxe Edition) Reviews
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Man on Fire (DVD, 2005, 2-Disc Set, Deluxe Edition)

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He is about to paint his masterpiece: Man on Fire

Nov 5, 2006
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Denzel Washington, Story, Sound Design

Cons:Overly flashy editing, Over long

The Bottom Line: Man on Fire is Denzel Washington's best so far and a creditable effort from Tony Scott. Good for action adventure fans.

Man on Fire (2004)

“Forgiveness is between them and God. It’s my job to arrange the meeting.” Creasy

Man on Fire is a revenge movie, pure and simple. Burned out former CIA operative Creasy (Denzel Washington) accepts a piece of cake assignment as a bodyguard for a pre-teen girl in Mexico City, arranged by pal Christopher Walken. We learn that in Latin America, kidnapping is the preferred crime du jour, second only to drug smuggling as an easy way to make ill-gotten gains.

Little nine year-old Pita - no it’s not an acronym for pain-in-the-*** - (Dakota Fanning) tries burnt out alcoholic Creasy’s frayed patience at first, but they eventually bond when he teaches her how not to flinch when the starting gun goes off at her swim meet.

Tony Scott (True Romance, Spy Game) directed this and is up to his usual good tricks with the camera and sound design of the sequences. Lots of hand-held shots and quick cutting with plenty of astounding color effects and so on, but in this case the movie goes on a little longer than it should.

Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Mystic River) adapted the story from the AJ Quinnell novel about a kidnapping that took place in Italy a couple decades ago. The rewrite changed the locale to Central America, which is the new hot area for kidnapping, a new one taking place every 60 minutes, according to the movie. The story has two parts - the first showing Creasy slowly retreating from the brink of hell due to the love and admiration of the little girl; the second the revenge he wreaks when the little girl is snatched away by a kidnapping ring that operates with the assistance of corrupt officials.

Helgeland’s story plumbs the depths of Creasy’s despair, pushing the familiar buttons of bible, bottle, and family ties to place the viewer in sympathy with Creasy while little Dakota Fanning does everything she can think of to get through to him. The difficulty is, the story just goes on too long. By the time they have bonded and the kidnapping takes place, and the Man on Fire stuff kicks in, we are already past the hour mark. The next 90 minutes of revenge makes you feel like you’ve had too much of a good thing, lying on top of your stomach like a too large pile of greasy hamburgers; and speaking of “gut grenades” - as we used to call those old White Castles - Creasy has his own special recipe that will delight action fans and dismay the more genteel viewers who tune in.

The movie is all about Denzel Washington, and he does a remarkable job. This is his best performance I’ve seen. Dakota Fanning is good as the precocious youngster, who thankfully vanishes about the halfway mark before she wears out her welcome, which can easily happen with a character smart beyond her years. Christopher Walken, Mark Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Mickey Rourke, and Giancarlo Gianini all play their supporting parts well. I was a little mystified how pale blonde Dakota Fanning could be the child of the obviously Latin Mark Anthony, however.

Editing by Christian Wagner is done with typical Tony Scott flash and the sound design and music chosen is typically excellent as well. It just goes on longer than the material warrants. I am a little unimpressed by the ending, also, but will leave that to the individual viewer to judge for themself.

All in all, Man on Fire is a good, watchable film, but no masterpiece. Four stars.

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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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