Man on Fire (2004)
By: Julian on October 11, 2009  | 
20th Century Fox (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 2:40:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1. English subtitles. 140 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Christopher Walken, Mickey Rourke
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Country: USA
External Links
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I'm a big fan of Tony Scott. Although he's made some clunkers, Ridley's oft-neglected little brother has made a few really good films – The Hunger, The Fan and this movie, the second adaptation of AJ Quinnell's 1980 novel, among them. Man on Fire suffers from Scott's later predilection towards rapid-fire editing, choppy cinematography and gratuitous flashiness but it is the sort of punchy, no-holds-barred revenge movie we don't see a lot of, and features Denzel Washington deadpanning it as a thoroughly cold-blooded avenger.

Washington plays John Creasy, an ex-CIA operative who is hired by a businessman Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell) to guard their nine-year-old daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning) in their home town of Mexico City, where young rich kids are being kidnapped for a hefty ransom. Creasy is recommended to the Ramoses by Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken, who is outstanding as always) because of a glowing résumé and as a personal favour by Rayburn to Creasy, whose CIA stint has made him totally nihilistic and caused the emotionally fraught ex-assassin to have an increasingly crippling dependence on alcohol.

After attempting suicide, Creasy goes about his business as Pita's bodyguard with complete disinterest. Eventually Pita appeals to his emotional sensibilities and they strike up an uneasy friendship. After a few sequences of Creasy giving Pita swimming lessons and life advice (these sequences play out as tritely as any of the potently homoerotic vignettes in Scott's Top Gun), the duo get caught in an ambush and Pita is kidnapped by a squad of corrupt police officers. The ensuing fire fight leaves Creasy unconscious and, when he comes to, he is told that the ringleader of the gang – known as "the Voice" – is demanding a $10 million ransom for Pita's return. Samuel and Lisa go through with the deal but it goes pear-shaped, resulting in another fire fight, the theft of the ransom money and a phone call from the Voice saying Pita is as good as dead. The revenge angle plays out pretty straightforwardly from here, with Creasy being armed to the teeth by Rayburn and sent hell for leather after the kidnappers.

The thing with Tony Scott's movies is that there isn't any deeper meaning to anything – it's completely bereft of intelligence with complete reliance placed upon vibrant visuals, attention-deficit-disordered editing and an absolutely cracking pace. There's a lot to like here, though – as far as recent revenge movies are concerned, this one is up there with Death Sentence, Taken and The Punisher, the common trait being an absolutely unrelenting protagonist. Denzel Washington plays the burned-out Creasy well, completely apathetic as he blows a bad guy to smithereens via an explosive suppository.

Scott's Man on Fire is the second adaptation of Quinnell's book – the first was a low-budget French/Italian co-production starring Scott Glenn as Creasy. Brian (Mystic River, LA Confidential... ahem... A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) Helgeland's screenplay for the 2004 redux is quite different to the novel – he takes the action from Milan to Mexico City, takes the antagonist's role from the Mafia and gives it to bent cops, gives Creasy a past in the CIA instead of the French Foreign Legion and sanitises some of the novel's nastier points. In spite of the latter, critics continued to have some serious problems with the on-screen violence, no doubt a glowing affirmation in the halls of Digital Retribution and a distinctive, all-important hallmark of the self-respecting revenge movie. But while Denzel might not be quite as sadistic as Liam Neeson kicking ass in the name of his kidnapped daughter in 2008's Taken, there's still a delicious mean-spiritedness to this.

There is an unfortunate vibe to most of Tony Scott's movies, though, that they're a bit too overreaching and never quite equal the sum of their parts. Frustratingly, and this is true for the best of Scott's films, Man on Fire shows some moments of inspired brilliance but there's a lot of filler. Running at almost two and a half hours, it's just too long, and the first forty-five minutes could have been halved to make this far more lean and effective. The aforementioned visuals are a bit much here, too – they're not used quite to the extent of his next film, the disappointing Domino, but it's distracting nonetheless.

These are some pretty broad criticisms of what is, by and large, a great revenge flick. It's violent and nasty and aside from a plodding first act, it moves at a cracking pace.
The picture is presented in 2.40:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It's very good. The film is shot by Paul Cameron who did some absolutely superb work that year with Collateral, but Man on Fire is too concerned with choppy editing for the cinematography to really be done sufficient justice.
Two English audio tracks, in Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1. They're very good and the dialogue is clear and crisp. British composer Harry Gregson-Williams does the original score, with songs by Nine Inch Nails and Dutch electronica group GMS, among others, being slotted in liberally.
Extra Features
An audio commentary by Scott and 31-minutes worth of deleted scenes are provided (there are fifteen in total, including an alternate ending). The deleted scenes can be played with an optional commentary by Scott. Trailers for other Fox releases, The Day After Tomorrow, I Robot, Alien vs Predator and Dodgeball precede the menu screen.
The Verdict
Man on Fire isn't Tony Scott's best film but it's a bloody good one. A cracking revenge yarn, coupled with a prodigious amount of nastiness and a thoroughly grimy atmosphere offsets any pacing or visual problems the movie may be afflicted with.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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