Saturday 16 October 2021

Movie Review: Man On Fire (2004)

A revenge action thriller centred on a child kidnapping, Man On Fire is gripping, violent, and stylish.

With Mexico City experiencing a high rate of abductions for ransom, businessman Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell) hire Creasy (Denzel Washington) as a bodyguard for their young daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning). Creasy is ex-military, but now has a drinking problem. He remains friends with Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken), a former colleague who runs a security firm.

The dour and despondent Creasy gets off on the wrong foot with the talkative and curious Pita, but they then establish a deep bond of friendship. When heavily-armed kidnappers do target Pita, Creasy is unable to save her despite killing four assailants and being shot several times. While he recuperates, Samuel and lawyer Jordan Kalfus (Mickey Rourke) handle the ransom negotiations. But with corruption reaching the highest levels of the police force, the deal goes bad. Creasy vows revenge on all those who harmed his young friend.

Directed by Tony Scott from a Brian Helgeland script adapting A.J. Quinnell's 1980 novel, Man On Fire is a standard revenge story spiced-up by strong character development, hyperactive cinematography, and star power. While the man-on-a-mission-wasting-bad-guys premise offers little that is new, here the people are made to matter with smart pacing choices.

The first hour patiently introduces the flawed and self-aware Creasy, the smart and precocious Pita (short for Lupita), and the connection between them. At first she irritates him but then he helps her develop competitive swimming techniques and becomes a friend and trusted mentor. Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning invest genuine humanity into the roles, adding a potent emotional punch to the subsequent violence.

Once the killing starts it does not stop, Creasy working his way up the criminal food chain from foot soldiers to mid-level operatives, corrupt officials and finally the masterminds. He is calm, methodical and outwardly emotionless, dismantling a shadowy organization consisting of thugs and sleazoids hiding behind uniforms and officious titles. All the bad guys call themselves professionals, but Creasy demonstrates what the term really means. The usual methods of torture are deployed to expeditiously extract the necessary information in time for the next rocket-propelled grenade to impart the required damage. And along the way a conspiracy twist is revealed, adding internecine venom.

Creasy is helped by a couple of locals to balance out the Mexican portrayals. Rachel Ticotin is reporter Mariana Garcia Guerrero, eager to expose government corruption and incompetence, and Giancarlo Giannini plays Miguel Manzano, a federal police director willing to provide assistance in exchange for the right perks.

The Mexico City locations add vibrant authenticity, while Scott's insistence on manic visual flair and demented editing borders on nauseating but achieves the intended kinetic buzz. Man On Fire is both cool and blazing.

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