After watching this thing, Judge Ryan Keefer started actively contemplating the merits of self-immolation, or at least dousing Tony Scott with lighter fluid.
Our review of Man On Fire, published October 4th, 2004, is also available.
"A man can be an artist…in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece."
Tony Scott is known as the brother of Sir Ridley, but has also developed his own set of films worthy of praise and scorn. Man on Fire is his second collaboration with Denzel Washington (in between Crimson Tide and Deja Vu). Now that Man on Fire is out on Blu-ray, is it firmly in the praise camp or does it spend time at Camp Scorn?
Facts of the Case
Adapted from A.J. Quinnell's novel by screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Mystic River), Washington plays Creasy, a retired assassin. Creasy was good at what he did, but his drinking has seen him out of government work for some time. At the advice of his friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken, True Romance), he accepts a position as bodyguard to Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony, Carlito's Way) and his lawyer Jordan Kalfus (Mickey Rourke, Sin City). Creasy's assigned to protect Samuel's daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning, War of the Worlds), who apparently has been the target of some rumored attempts in the past. When Pita is eventually kidnapped—because you know, Creasy is good but not THAT good—Creasy's old assassin habits return to the surface, as he imposes revenge on those who committed this treacherous act.
There are many things that frustrate me about Man on Fire. Top of that list is its two and a half hour runtime doesn't justify the story it tells. For filler, Scott decides to employ every trick in the book, using various cuts, clever use of subtitles for Spanish-speaking characters, all in a way to distract you from the crux of the story, which is, well, nothing. This is a bunch of interesting things thrown together that even conservatively is about forty five minutes too long. And cut out all the kinetic camera movements too, will ya? I had to take Dramamine to get through the second and third acts, for Pete's sake!
Here's the story: Guy with a past (and a small group of scars on his hand which are never fully explained) meets a girl he's not supposed to be friends with, and becomes friends with her. The requisite scenes showing an establishing bond are included (with a couple of montages thrown in every so often, because even Rocky had a montage). She gets kidnapped and he gets pissed. A confusing story about some sort of business or religious cult is thrown in. Our thoughts about who was behind the kidnapping are true and, after closure, there's still twenty more minutes of an ending that should have happened before this movie even hit two hours. And this thing made $75 million? I'm ashamed of my country.
What's sad is that there are so many recognizable faces in roles that don't seem to suit them better. Rachel Ticotin seems to play the token "Helpful older Latina" in anything I see her in lately; Rourke is here, though I see no reason for it; and Walken's playing the stable nice guy. Go figure. But aside from looking at them and saying "hey, it's them!," there is really no added enjoyment from their appearance. Fanning, who was good in War of the Worlds, certainly works well with Washington and turns in a capable performance in her own right.
Technically Man on Fire looks great. The 2.40:1 widescreen presentation uses the AVC MPEG-4 codec and captures all of Scott's tricks, er, film stocks, pretty well. Both he and his brother certainly know how to use background in a shot. The Mexico City backgrounds look lush and full of detail, and colors are vivid without any real bleeding. You can even spot individual hairs on Denzel's two or three day growth. A couple of scenes tend to lose that kind of detail occasionally, so that was a small disappointment. The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is another beauty from Fox—ample use of directional effects, dialogue sounds clear and balanced, and there's a ton of explosions guaranteed to make your subwoofer put on its running shoes. As for the extras, Fox gives this a BD-50, with loads of room to breathe, yet it can't even be bothered to port over two measly commentaries? Please. Trailers for this film and a few others are the only extras to speak.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film's saving grace is Washington. His character is one that on paper seems to be thin. In fact, the ending leaves him in a situation that doesn't really seem to befit him. When Pita is kidnapped, Washington becomes a cold calculating individual willing to do anything to get Pita back, and that's to his credit. He shoots people with precision, sticks explosives up their ass, and isn't afraid to blow someone's fingers off with a shotgun. Walken says it best in a monologue (presumably inspired by Walken's gangster turn in Scott's True Romance, no doubt): Creasy has been shown how to live again with Pita's help, and because it's been taken away from him, he's out for a gallon or two of someone's blood. One question though: if he's that much of a badass, why wouldn't he think of wearing a bulletproof vest?
Well, Man on Fire looks and sounds really good, but it's also REALLY long. Denzel does yeoman's work and has a higher place saved in heaven every time he appears in a Tony Scott joint, even when the film puts concept on top of concept without any real explanation, and expects you to be dazzled by the camera and editing work. If you liked the film that much that you own the standard definition version, I suppose an upgrade is probably in order.
Denzel is given community service based on his record, but everyone else is guilty and sentenced to a class in cinematic restraint.
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