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April 27, 2004 > Man on Fire

Man on Fire

Director: Tony Scott

by Jeremy Inman

Man on Fire is the most recent of the current revenge films in theaters, but it's not your run-of-the-mill blood and bullets, kill everyone that moves revenge-fest - at least not for the first hour. Instead, director Tony Scott opted to spend the first hour or so of Man of Fire developing Denzel Washington's character, Creasy. At the outset of the film, the audience is not entirely aware of Creasy's origin. We're clued in on his past when he meets up with his old buddy Rayburn (played by Christopher Walken) and asks him, "Do you think God will forgive us for what we've done?" Apparently, Creasy is an ex-gunman who now spends the majority of his time knocking back Jack Daniels and contemplating suicide in the face of past atrocities. A wave of kidnappings in Mexico City prompts Rayburn to get Creasy a job as a bodyguard for the daughter of a wealthy couple. Creasy accepts, and with the help of the young and eerily intuitive Pita, begins his slow trip, as Rayburn puts it, back to life.

It is this aspect of the film that makes it so effective. Scott decided to forgo the expected hour and a half of bullets and explosions and replace it with strong character establishment and development. The chemistry between Washington and Fanning, played by the extraordinarily talented Dakota Fanning, is amazing. Pita draws Creasy back out of his dark hole.. The scenes that take place within the first hour of Man on Fire are often very touching, and Scott wisely used them to make the outcome of the film all the more effective. When the film finally reaches the inevitable kidnapping, Creasy is hospitalized after a shootout and Pita is presumed dead. When Creasy gets back on his feet, him embarks on the path of vengeance, he racks up a body count that would make The Punisher proud. From this point on out, Man on Fire is nothing but action. We follow Creasy through a slew of unpleasant emotions, which turn out to be a very real and effective representation of a man in his circumstances. Overall, the setup for the inevitable action is adequate and effective, and the action, highly entertaining.

This film could have profited from tighter editing. While the first hour is highly effective, too much time is spent building up to a kidnapping that everyone knew was going to happen. Furthermore, the film is often choppy because Scott uses a visual effect that often appears as if it were filmed in frenzy. While this fits the mood and tone of the film, the effect can often be dizzying, and annoying.

For the most part, Man on Fire is a breath of fresh air. Any movie with Denzel Washington is going to be worth seeing, and Dakota Fanning and Christopher Walken are additional bonuses. The movie is effectively emotional when necessary, often visually impressive, and action-packed for the rest of the time.

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