"Denzel Washington, Brian Helgeland and Tony Scott? Sign me up."
There's a gritty and enjoyably desperate sense of intensity in Tony Scott's kidnapping thriller "Man on Fire" - a manly and overblown bravado that keeps the flick chugging along quite nicely...despite the fact that we've seen this story already - about 149 times.Based on the novel by the mysterious A.J. Quinnell and as comfortably familiar as a pair of weathered old jeans, Tony Scott's Man on Fire succeeds due to a typically powerhouse performance from Denzel Washington and the director's own hyper-kinetic sense of style. It's like hearing an old joke told with some new flavor.
Denzel plays a world-weary former soldier who's found himself on hard times. Unemployed and focused almost exclusively on the bottom of his next bottle of alcohol, Washington's Creasy is exactly the sort of anti-hero we love to love; he's bitter and flawed and nearly suicidal...but the guy has unseen depths of humanity that are just waiting to explode.
And when Creasy's latest charge, a sun-faced moppet named Pita, is kidnapped by a gang of ruthless terrorists...well, you know where this story's headed already.
Man on Fire is equal parts Redemption Tale and Action Drama; it presents a potentially withered old tale with a surprising amount of sincere emotion and visual splendor. Working from Brian (Mystic River) Helgeland's stark and efficient screenplay, Tony Scott puts his own trademarked stamp on the material; the landscapes are parched and bleachy, action scenes are widescreen mayhem. The camera never stops wandering; it zooms in on a face and pulls back almost at random. The frequent subtitles are presented as if in a comic book, with certain words capitalized for emphasis and others left to fade out slowly.
It's all parlor tricks and visual razmatazz, but there's no reason that Tony Scott's eccentric flourishes can't make for an effective approach. He's like Michael Bay with an attention span of longer than 7 seconds. The visual pyrotechnics would mean very little without a compelling story and a few sympathetic characters; fortunately we have just enough of both.
Denzel is...well, he's just great. He's Denzel! I can't remember the last time Denzel Washington delivered a performance less than excellent, and his string continues here. Creasy is a beaten and almost contemptible old fossil; he's a relic of a war machine that's used to disposable parts. Obviously the adorable little Pita (Dakota Fanning, in a fantastic performance) will eventually thaw Creasy's wounded heart; obviously there's going to be Hell to Pay when Pita gets abducted.
Scott and Helgeland wisely front-load the movie with moments between Creasy and Pita. This is the absolute backbone of the entire thing; if we buy the relationship between these two, the rest of the movie (Creasy's ultimate redemption through justified ass-kickage) just clicks right into place.
Toss in a great little performance from Christopher Walken, a welcome visit from the always-cool Rachel Ticotin, and the ever-lovely Aussie Radha Mitchell as she tries to wrap her lips around a Texas accent...you're looking at a good time Guy Movie across the board.It sure ain't deep and it certainly isn't unique, but "Man on Fire" injects a lot of new life into this simple old tale of "You hurt my family - and I'm one MEAN bastard!" It's slick and stylish, a bit overblown at 140+ minutes, and ultimately rather satisfying when all is said and done.