Lionsgate // 2012 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // November 28th, 2012
Revenge has its own set of rules.
"You get to keep your first name."
When firefighter Jeremy Coleman (Josh Duhamel, Transformers) witnesses local crime boss David Hagan (Vincent D'Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket) murder a storeowner and his son, he barely escapes with his life. After learning the true extent of Hagan's crimes from detective Mike Cella (Bruce Willis, Die Hard), and agreeing to testify against him, Coleman is forced into the Witness Protection Program to keep him out of Hagan's reach.
Relocated to New Orleans, Coleman is placed under the care of federal agent Talia Durham (Rosario Dawson, Sin City) while he awaits the impending court case. When his new identity is compromised, Coleman finds his life -- and that of everyone he cares for -- at risk. Realizing that he will never be safe whilst Hagan is still breathing, Coleman decides to takes matters into his own hands.
What will immediately grab the attention of any prospective buyer of Fire With Fire is the quite literally star-studded cast it boasts. Okay, so we might not be talking A-list stars here, but few would argue with a cast featuring Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Josh Duhamel, and Richard Schiff, amongst others. Of course, such a strong line up of familiar faces will cause the more pessimistic viewer to smell a rat, leading them to ask why they've never heard of the film, let alone seen it amongst the listings at their local multiplex. Such fears can, for the most part be allayed. While it would be true to say that Fire with Fire lacks even an ounce of originality amongst its 97 minutes, it still delivers an entertaining thriller that is far and away superior to what its direct-to-video roots might otherwise suggest.
The film plays out along a fairly standard revenge-based plot, but thanks to the quality of its cast, an occasionally smarter-than-average screenplay, and director Dave Barrett's more-than-competent direction, Fire With Fire is most definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Visually, Barrett's film isn't too dissimilar to Tony Scott's Man on Fire, with a manipulated color palette lending the film a similarly gritty look, albeit with none of that film's more exuberant flourishes. It's pleasing to note that Barrett eschews the current trend of choppy editing in his action scenes, and instead opts for a more straightforward approach. Admittedly, the film is relatively light on action, but this actually works to its benefit; rather than turning into an Arnie-esque shoot-em-up, Fire With Fire plays on the threat level posed by D'Onofrio's David Hagan.
Speaking of which, although he may not quite scale the heights of a truly great screen villain, David Hagan certainly poses a credible enough threat to our heroes for us to take him seriously. It may be a little overstated at times, but thanks to D'Onofrio's eerily calm delivery which is often in sharp contrast to his words and actions, Hagan really feels like the kind of man who wouldn't think twice about killing your loved ones without a moments remorse if it meant him staying out of jail. Hagan's white supremacist background is never overplayed, and instead casts a dark shadow over him that doesn't need to be spoken, but ensures we know right off the bat what this guy is all about. Unfortunately, Josh Duhamel's Jeremy Coleman is a far more vanilla offering, presenting an everyday man thrown into a world of violence that is all too familiar for the most part. His romantic relationship with Rosario Dawson feels forced, as it only ever works as a plot device when Hagan makes a threat against her life, thus forcing Jeremy into action. Likewise, there's a cringe-inducing moment where Jeremy talks with Talia about his past as a firefighter, and Talia asks how Jeremy handled hysterical people trapped in a burning building. With his most sincere face on, Jeremy tells her how he would use the line, "You need you to trust me. Do everything that I ask and I promise we'll survive this. Do you trust me?" It doesn't take a genius to guess that this line is going to crop up again later in the movie. That said: there are some nice touches to the character, such as seeing Jeremy's reactions to the violent acts he is forced to commit, and which betray his revulsion at them. One such scene, in which Jeremy tortures one of Hagan's goons, sees him vomit at the sight of his victim's severed finger.
While Duhamel carries the film ably, and D'Onofrio steels every scene he is in, they are helped no end by the cast Barrett has assembled, and which puts many bigger productions to shame. Richard Schiff's morally conflicted lawyer is an obvious standout, and Bruce Willis delivers a more restrained performance than we are accustomed to. The smaller roles really show the depth of talent at Barrett's disposal. Vinnie Jones (The Condemned), Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (Get Rich or Die Tryin'), Kevin Dunn (Transformers), and Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck) are amongst a plethora of familiar faces that undoubtedly add to the film's quality.
It's a shame then that the finale is so underwhelming, as the strong buildup of the second act gives way to mediocrity. It's difficult to understand why things go south so quickly, but there's no denying it all feels a little rushed and anti-climactic.
Much like the film itself, Lionsgate's DVD release of Fire With Fire is a winner. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is sharp, and packs in a high level of detail. Colors are intentionally muted, but never distractingly so. The film's Dolby 5.1 Surround track also scores highly. Dialogue is clear, as one would hope, but it is the sound effects that really impress. One of the film's most memorable scenes, in which Rosario Dawson's federal agent finds herself in a long-range shootout with a sniper, really stands out, as bullets whiz around making excellent use of the whole speaker setup.
Kicking off the extras is not one, but two commentary tracks. Director David Barrett and cinematographer David Probst team up for the first track, while Vincent D'Onofrio leads an actor's commentary. A short behind-the-scenes featurette is accompanied by a number of extended interviews with cast members, who each discuss their involvement in the film. Finally, a selection of trailers is included.
Fire With Fire is proof that direct-to-video titles can be the equal of their big screen counterparts, as it delivers a slickly produced, almost relentlessly entertaining thriller. If it lacks originality, then it's a small price to pay for a fun night in.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R