MAN ON FIRE
Tony Scott, Director


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20th Century Fox, April 2004
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

"Every 60 minutes someone in a Latin American country is kidnapped. Only 70% are returned alive."

John Creasy (Denzel Washington), a former special ops warrior turned soldier of fortune, is hired as bodyguard for a wealthy family in Mexico City. His old war buddy Rayburn (Christopher Walken) helps him get the job, advising Creasy to get control of his drinking for the duration of this assignment.

Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony), an auto manufacturer who's in financial trouble, is looking to hire security for a cheap price tag. When Creasy tells Ramos about his drinking problems during the preliminary interview, Ramos says "don't tell my wife" (Radha Mitchell). Creasy's job is to guard the Ramos' nine year old daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). On his first day of delivering Pita to school, the Madre Superior tells him, "Do not be overcome by evil, overcome evil with good," but Creasy says, "I'm one of the sheep God lost."

Burned out and bitter toward life, Creasy tries to keep his distance from Pita, but her sweetness and persistence wins out. She even names her favorite stuffed animal Creasy Bear after the battle hardened warrior. He is almost putty in her hands until kidnappers, aided by off-duty Mexican police, snatch her away, leaving Creasy seriously wounded and under investigation for killing police officials.

When Creasy is strong enough to leave his hospital bed, he has one mission and he doesn't care if he lives or dies. He is out for revenge. "He is an artist of death and he's about to paint his masterpiece," Rayburn says.

MAN ON FIRE is a brutal and complex film of redemption and vengeance. Creasy's transformation as he is charmed by Pita's appealing and sparkling personality is very touching. Filmgoers will realize from the get-go that Pita is going to be kidnapped, but her fate is not what this story is about, and it wouldn't be fair to tell the ending. I'll just say the final wrap-up brings many surprises.

Creasy's vow of revenge will eventually lead him into the underworld of organized crime and corrupted Mexican officials. He is aided by Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini), an Interpol agent, and Marianna (Rachel Ticotin) an investigative journalist. Creasy isn't a hero in the classic sense and his feats are completely preposterous since he's practically bulletproof, yet the film is still suspenseful and entertaining.

MAN ON FIRE isn't for the faint of heart. It's violent and dark, rated R for brutal violence, and obscenity in English and Spanish. The screenplay is written by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River), based on the novel MAN ON FIRE by A.J. Quinnell (1982, 2004). It has some interesting photography effects by Paul Cameron which includes subtitles and flashes of dialogue graphics.

Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning have a winning on-screen chemistry. Denzel Washington has reached legendary status and delivers an outstanding performance. Dakota Fanning holds her own in this powerfully dramatic film. One can only wonder what this child actor will do next. Grammy winning musician Marc Anthony’s performance as Pita's father was flawless. Christopher Walken delivers his lines with an intense energy that practically sizzles. This is a riveting story brought to life by an all star cast. Running time 147 minutes

 

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