Man on Fire

He has a background in government/military operations. They killed those close to him and left him for dead. Now, he's coming after them in revenge, and he will kill everybody in their family and all they hold dear. He is the Punisher. Oh wait, no he's not. Man on Fire and The Punisher have uncannily similar stories, although the latter is from a comic book and the former is based on the novel by A.J. Quinnell. Together with Kill Bill Vol. 2, it's turning into a crowded marketplace for vengeance. In term of quality, Man on Fire is the better film. Its story is more compelling, it has a more human protagonist, and has more revenge action going for it. For star Denzel Washington (Out of Time, Antwone Fisher), it is reminiscent of dark performance in Training Day. Here, as John Creasy, he's not as full out villainous, but he still very intimidating. Creasy gets a job as the bodyguard for the wealthy Ramos family in Mexico, protecting their young daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning, The Cat in the Hat, Uptown Girls).

In the first half or so of Man on Fire, not much happens. As dull as this can be, it is necessary for the latter part of the film. Creasy is a washed up, drunk, ex-military man. His friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken, The Rundown, Gigli) convinces him to take the Ramos job, and he does so reluctantly. Once on the job, Creasy does all he can do avoid any sort of personal attachment to Pita. Pita has other plans. Fanning uses her supernatural cuteness to bring Creasy out of his shell. It's obvious that something in his past is bother him, just as it becomes obvious that he will use his past to go on a rampage later. Adapter Brian Helgeland (The Order, Mystic River) is building up Creasy so that he and director Tony Scott (Spy Game, Enemy of the State) can completely tear him down. Pita is the person who shows Creasy that it is okay to live and to smile, and because of her, he becomes somewhat 'human' again. It also gives them time to bond, so that the audience can see that yes, Creasy does actually care for this little girl and her kidnapping will have a tangible effect on him.

The inevitable kidnapping of Pita happens amidst the corrupt Mexican government. Creasy suspects that rogue police officers orchestrated the kidnapping, and reporter Marianna (Something's Gotta Give, Can't Be Heaven) and AFI official Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini, CQ, Joshua) are helping him out. They want to stamp out the corruption that plagues public office, and are trying to find proof of a corrupt secret society within law enforcement that protects its own. Creasy, although left for dead, quickly arms himself and goes on a beeline rampage towards the source of the kidnapping. The gentle, smiling Creasy from the first half morphs into somebody willing to cut off all ten of a man's fingers to extract information. Man on Fire devolves into action entertainment, in the very capable hands of Scott.

Scott's hyperactive style, especially in the latter half of the film, adds a sense of energy to an otherwise familiar story. It bristles with intensity and feels like an extended (and violent) music video. The camera zooms in and out quickly, then goes in and out of focus. Colors wash across the screen, and he moves quickly from one shot to another. Scott even uses subtitles effectively, changing the size of the text to mimic the delivery of the speech. It's all a bunch of tricks, but the tricks work. The violence seems even more dangerous, and Creasy even more like a superhero. There is tension, but the drama is not as high as Scott would hope. The entire film plays off more like a video game, with Washington playing a villainous hero, or a heroic villain. It's kind of 'fun' watching Creasy get his revenge, the same way it's fun watching a good slasher flick.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 26 minutes, Rated R for language and strong violence.

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