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Man On Fire /

Rated: R

Starring: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell

Directed by: Tony Scott

Produced by: Lucas Foster, Arnon Milchan, Tony Scott
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Distributor: 20th Century Fox


Movie Image
Movie Image
Movie Image

style (n.) – 2. The combination of distinctive features of literary or artistic expression, execution, or performance characterizing a particular person, group, or era.

     From one frame to the next, Tony Scott’s latest project, Man on Fire, is oozing in vibrancy and aliveness. Cut, swap, scrap, shake, fold, quip—every stylistic device the modern director could ever think of is in the movie. The technique works well too, because it’s only fitting for the story. Normally, I like to criticize movies that have too much style; they decievingly allow their plot-lines to be murky and bloated, compensating for such a method. However, Scott’s vibes work amazingly well here, matching the tone of the over-the-top story. The concept of the movie, by itself—like many others of its kind—seems ridiculously preposterous, a genuine eye-roller. Beyond all odds, though, there is wonder in Man on Fire’s contents, and audiences will find this to be amazingly rewarding.

     Denzel Washington, in a powerhouse of a performance, plays John Creasy, who finds himself working as a bodyguard for a young girl, named Pita (Dakota Fanning), who comes from a wealthy family. The first thing to flash onto the screen in Man on Fire is text, stating that every sixty seconds, a child is kidnapped in Latin America. Predictably, before long, Pita is taken and Creasy is shot, leaving him unable to protect his client. At this point in time, Pita has just begun to form a bond with Creasy, after a long, cold period of time, in which the two had a strictly business-like relationship. Pita’s return to her family is then destroyed by a failed delivery of the requested ransom. Somehow, her captors only receive half of the $10,000,000 amount that her parents agree upon. With her dead, Creasy recovers, and then leads a plan for revenge upon her killers, discovering some very shocking information. This all leads to a showdown between him and a man known as “The Voice”, nick-named after the malevolent commands he gives to kidnappers via cellular phone.

     Washington delivers another brilliant performance to add to his long and growing resume, but the real star of the movie is Dakota Fanning. Before Man on Fire, I had a hunch that she was a great actress, but the dreary pictures she starred in left much to be desired of her many talents. Here, she shines in every scene, perfectly depicting the realities of the character she also plays in real life, a little girl. All of her other roles have been cutesy and one-note, but Peta is a character that the audience can feel for. Her personality complements that of Creasy in an appealing way, and she teaches him to develop hope, which is, of course, diminished when she has supposedly been murdered by her abductors.

     The script, authored by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River), was adapted from A.J. Quinnell’s novel, featuring some of the strongest dialogue in years. There is sheer force behind the choice of words in the movie, and the way in which they are presented. David Mamet’s work rang a bell when I listened to Helgeland’s; both writers keep tight reigns on their characters’ behavior. Scott has a unique way of bringing this out, too. Some of the film is in Spanish, which requires subtitles. These pop-up everywhere on the screen, varying in color, size, and boldness. But, in addition, our director will also occasionally imprint the dialogue that is spoken in English in the video, giving the material an unexpectedly powerful emphasis. The sporadic conversations which feature this procedure are insanely effective. Thankfully, their usage is moderate, preserving their undeniable might from being minimized and rediclued.

     The pacing of the film, at times, can feel slow and strung out, but this is really the only major flaw of Man on Fire. But, considering it is 146 minutes long, the entire thing does feel pretty breezy. Scott knows what he’s doing, and so does his cast, making for an exceptionally enjoyable, Hollywood-style creation. As long as Scott keeps choosing the right projects to wow us with visuals in, his career is sure to be a long and successful one. His next film, Emma’s War, stars Nicole Kidman, playing a British aid-worker in Sudan, and is predicted to be released in 2005. His presentation of images will have to change in order to accompany the rather “different” material, as well as the bizarrely original writing of Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things). I look forward to see the way in which Scott chooses to execute the plot and showcase his versatility as a director. I will pray it doesn’t turn out to be another Beyond Borders for two reasons: (1) I could never endure such a horrific experience again and, more importantly, (2) I have gained a respect for him that I do not want to see wash away anytime soon.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (5.2.2004)

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