Man On Fire

It seems that Mexico is not really a nice place to visit if Tony Scott’s latest film Man On Fire is to be believed. It claims that there are four kidnappings a day and one of these is the focus for the film.

Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a burnt out ex-special forces operative (is there any other in Hollywood?) who is invited down to Mexico by his worried friend and comrade in arms, Rayburn (a very restrained Christopher Walken). On seeing his friend wallowing in such despondency and lassitude, Rayburn sets up a job interview for Creasy as he realises that Creasy needs a purpose for living and not having anything to do all day is slowly destroying his friend.

Creasy turns up to his interview and is met by Samuel (Marc Anthony), a Mexican Businessman and his American wife, Lisa (Radha Mitchell). With four kidnappings occurring a day in Mexico, it is no surprise that Samuel and Lisa want to replace the bodyguard they fired a few days earlier. Creasy soon meets his charge, Lisa’s 10 year old daughter Lupita, also known as Pita (Dakota Fanning) who is as interested in Creasy as he is not interested in discussing either himself or anything beyond his job.

So charged with a small child, Creasy takes her to school and swimming practise and generally watches over her during the day and spends the nights indulging in alcoholism and suicidal tendencies.

Pita treats Creasy with a kindness that he has not experienced in such a long time that he eventually warms up to her. He starts with helping her with her homework before becoming her swimming coach. Pita gives him a reason to live for makes Creasy feel like a real person again; a feeling that he has not felt in a very long while.

With the bond between Creasy and Pita growing stronger, a sense of impending doom also creeps in, especially as the film is about kidnapping. When it happens, Creasy takes out a group of corrupt cops during the kidnapping attempt and is himself wounded. With Creasy in the hospital, a ransom drop off is orchestrated by the local police force which ends badly.

Awaking a few days later, Creasy is informed of the blotched drop off and the ramifications on Pita’s life. It turns out that Creasy’s specialisation in the forces was assassinations and now an expert in the art of assassination is unleashed, vowing to kill everyone who was even remotely involved in the kidnapping and killing of Pita.

Man On Fire is a first class tale of redemption and revenge which has been told many times before but director Tony Scott manages to keep it fresh with some stunning visuals and sharp direction. Denzel Washington is never better when playing deeply flawed characters and this is no exception. Even though Creasy does some outright brutal things two things stand out; the calm and collected matter-of-factly manner he goes about his business and secondly the audience never looses their connection with him. Washington’s performance is very compelling and believable and not overdone and caricaturised as his turn in Training Day was. He really manages to portray a man who bit by bit regains his soul only to unleash all his anger against his enemies.

Dakota Fanning is excellent as Pita and shows why she is one of the hottest new stars to emerge on TV and films. She is one of these rare child actors who seems so professional and adapt already that she is either destined for superstardom or the dreaded path followed by Gary Coleman and McCauley Culkin. Both Fanning and Washington are superb in their scenes together.

Other good performances come from the ever dependable Christopher Walken who manages to restrain himself from his typically over-the-top ranting and psychotic mannerisms, this time replaced with a poignant speech about how Creasy is an artist of death. Rachael Ticotin and Giancarlo Giannini are also good as a reporter and AFI agent who keep Creasy informed on the criminal food-chain. Even Mickey Rourke who turns up as the family lawyer makes a refreshing change from his usual meathead roles.

The film is a bit too long at nearly 2½ hours and some might find the pace a little slow at times but that is a minor flaw. Other criticisms might be that the film lacks depth and is nothing more beyond a revenge flick where Tony Scott has tried to cover the gaps with excessive stylisation. Having said that don’t let this detract from what is a very entertaining yarn with some solid performances.

Score 8/10