Man On Fire - Review (Blu-ray)
Review by Jack Foley
QUENTIN Tarantino has described Man on Fire as ‘one of Tony Scott’s best pictures. Hard, gripping and tough as hell.” It’s easy to see why.
Scott’s latest is a humdinger of a thriller that embodies many of the traits we have come to enjoy from the Kill Bill maestro, not to mention the best of the director’s own back catalogue.
A labour of love for Scott, who sought to direct it in 1987, prior to making his name with Top Gun, the film is an engrossing character study that is as poignant as it is bloody, and which features yet another blistering turn from Denzel Washington.
The actor plays Creasy, a former military specialist-turned-alcoholic, who is haunted by a past he cannot forget.
When he travels to Mexico to hook up with his old military buddy, Rayburn (Christopher Walken), Creasy is given a shot at redemption and agrees to serve as bodyguard for Mexico City industrialist, Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony), his American wife, Lisa (Radha Mitchell), and their daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning).
And through Pita, Creasy gradually learns that ‘it’s ok to live again’, befriending the girl and acting as a father-figure, as he coaches her to swimming success at her local school and serves as an advisor and confidante.
His world comes crashing down around him, however, when Pita is kidnapped and he is injured in the ensuing shoot-out, which means that he has no control over the ensuing ransom negotiations.
When they go wrong, and Pita is left for dead, Creasy vows to take revenge – and sets about delivering his particular dish in the coldest possible fashion.
Enlisting the help of Rayburn, as well as a plucky news reporter (Rachel Ticotin) and ex-Interpol expert (Giancarlo Giannini), Creasy sets about killing anyone who was involved with, or profited from, Pita’s kidnapping, even if it involves corrupt, high-ranking policemen, or professional killers.
The ensuing revenge mission unfolds with all the visual flair we have come to expect from Scott, as well as a gut-wrenching toughness that is not so typical of Hollywood.
As Creasy goes about his mission, it’s clear he means business, and from the moment he starts torturing victims to extract more information, he becomes a single-minded instrument of punishment whose own life and wellbeing play second fiddle to the task at hand.
Yet, while the violence in the second part of the movie is uncompromising, it is offset cleverly by the tenderness and affection displayed in the first half, when Scott takes the time to build and develop the relationship between Creasy and Pita.
It is a relationship that is touchingly portrayed and which allows Washington to build on the tragedy of his character in scintillating fashion, so that when the switch is flicked and Creasy is forced to revisit his past misdeeds, his actions are understandable, even when veering towards the deplorable.
At two and a half hours, the film does not flag and contains several outstanding set pieces, during which Scott gets to showcase the full extent of his technical brilliance.
Wisely, however, they do not come at the expense of Brian Helgeland’s intense screenplay, which provides a neat juxtaposition to his work on Mystic River, and which dealt with similar issues of revenge in much more personal terms.
It may, ultimately, provoke the wrath of the anti-violence brigade, but Man on Fire is undoubtedly one of the year’s best thrillers.
When Walken’s character points out that ‘Creasy’s art is death, and he’s about to paint his masterpiece’, you’ll be hard-pressed not to agree with the sentiment, for Scott and Washington have masterfully created one of their own. The film is downright essential viewing.
Running time: 146mins
UK Blu-ray Release: February 9, 2009