by Brian McKay
MAN ON FIRE, which should have been a straighforward revenge drama, succeeds in spite of the many stumbling blocks that director Tony Scott insists on throwing in its path. With his overly flashy, jarring, and spastic editing, not to mention the constant use of over-stylized (and often superfluous) subtitles and a ridiculous "Secret Society" subplot, it's no wonder that this film is bloated to a 145 minute running time.Denzel Washington is Creasy, a former soldier with lots of killing experience who is now a bodyguard with a drinking problem. Dakota Fanning is Pita (as in "Lupita", not the sandwich), the cute and precocious youngster that Creasy has been hired to protect. When she tries to make friends with Creasy, he remains aloof. But she gradually wiggles her way into his heart, as cute little kids do, and he begins to pull himself out of his alcoholic stupor and feel alive again.
"Smolder, sizzle, burn, and sputter"
Then some rotten bastards go and kidnap her and leave him for dead (although he manages to take down a few of them in the process). When he wakes up in the hospital several days later, he learns from fellow retired soldier and his best friend, Rayburn (a subdued Christopher Walken), that the ransom drop was botched and Pita is presumed dead. Dragging himself from his hospital bed, Creasy has only one thing left to live for - hunting down the motherfuckers that took her, and putting a hurtin' on them. And God bless him, that's exactly what he does.
While Denzel doesn't quite give a Training Day kind of powerhouse performance, he plays Creasy with a quiet but angry determination, giving us a character who has absolutely no compunction about torturing someone until he's squeezed every last morsel of useful information out of them, and then busting a cap in their head. Meanwhile, little Dakota is adorable and smart, giving us a character to feel for rather than a faceless child in distress. The chemistry between Washington and Fanning, and the cold rage that drives him to a killing spree when he learns that she is gone, are the main reasons why the story works. Without them, Man on Fire would just be a big dumb loud violent music video.
But that's almost what it becomes anyway, thanks to Scott's crack-monkey style of flashy, distracting, and irritating editing, combined with an often overbearing soundtrack. It may keep the ADD-afflicted MTV generation watchers entertained, but it's mostly just unnecessary padding, as are the overboard use of subtitles to emphasize every point made in the dialogue. How stupid do you think we all really are, Tony? Just tell the fucking story, already!. There's no reason this thing needed to pass the two hour mark. This isn't Lawrence of Arabia or Lord of the Rings. It's "Man bonds with girl, man loses girl, man sets out to kick some ass."Somebody needs to put the reigns on Scott, before he damn near ruins another good movie. As for how this compares to the 1987 version, which features Scott Glen in the role . . . well, it's been a long time since I saw it, but I remember it was a lot less flashy while being just as effective. Too bad that version will probably continue to linger in the VHS graveyard of the Mom and Pop video store, while this version gets a special 2 disc set where Scott can bombard us with double the pretentiousness.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9269&reviewer=258
originally posted: 04/26/04 15:19:24