Retro Review: Man on Fire

After last week’s debut of “The Punisher” and the smash of the “Kill Bill” series, it sure seems like the anti-hero is back. Vengeance seems to be the new fuel of the box office. Is it possible that Hollywood saved the best for last?

By 1987, anti-heroes and vengeance action flicks were beginning to fade and the first incarnation of the A.J.Quinnell novel, “Man on Fire” was brought to the silver screen. Scott Glenn was the central character of the washed up body guard Creasy and his young charge was played by newcomer Jade Malle. It was a forgettable film in the long and profound career of Scott Glenn.

In the latest incarnation of the novel, screenwriter phenom Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, LA Confidential) adapts the screenplay.

And the film is helmed by action veteran Tony Scott. In this outing Denzel Washington plays the tormented and alcoholic John Creasy who winds up in Mexico City by request from his friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken) to become the bodyguard to Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), the daughter of a rich Mexican industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell).

Creasy is fed up with his life and has found a permanent hole in the bottom of a Jack Daniels bottle. His ex-military prestige is all but a hazy blur in his head but both Lisa and Pita see something in Creasy that no one else does, trust.

As Pita begins to get inside Creasy’s head and try to understand this “sad man”, as she calls him, their friendship and bond strengthens. Eventually Creasy’s hardened emotions breakaway to a parental fondness and Creasy begins to live again.

As their bond reaches its maturity, Pita is kidnapped and Creasy is brutally wounded. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Creasy vows to bring down every person connected to the kidnapping even if it reaches into the heart of the Mexican elite. Mexico City will burn as one man will rage a war that Mexican reporter Mariana (Rachel Ticotin) and Federal agent Manzano (Giancarlo Gianni) have never seen before.

“Man on Fire” is a revenge flick that needs to be remembered. It is in so many ways what the best of the genre is and so much more. With a flawless performance from Washington, “Man on Fire” continues to show the actor’s brilliance. In a lot of ways I liked him in this more than “Training Day” because in that film I felt he was over the top in a lot of scenes while in this it is such a subtle performance. You can feel and absorb everything that is going on inside this man’s head with just a look or a slouch. He is amazing.

Praise should also be given to young Dakota Fanning, who once more seems to shine. This little actress can act better than a lot of actors 2 or 3 times her age. She is brilliant and rips our hearts out in every scene.

I also really enjoyed the way director Tony Scott brought his film together. The direction brings so much new life into this stagnant genre.

I also loved the way he uses subtitles in the film. It is just so unique and brings the audience into the picture instead of alienating us like in so many other films.

I also liked the fact that Scott wasn’t afraid to go the extra mile with the heart-wrenching violence and raw emotion. We adore these characters.

In the 1987 version, it felt odd that there was a “Lolita-esque” relationship between Creasy and his 12-year old charge. In the latest version, Creasy’s charge is younger and the film goes more for the parental side of things which makes for a stronger impact. The 1987 film doesn’t allow for the main characters to have a deep bound and we question Creasy’s motives.

The only smallest flaw, if I were to find one, would be the fact that we don’t know more about what happened to Creasy to make him give up. Unveiling the story probably would have taken away from the emotion locked in the core of the film but it still would interesting to find out.

I really was shocked, dismayed and emotionally involved with this film and its roller-coaster of emotion. It is a brilliant and under-rated film. Hands down it is one of the best of the genre.

(5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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