Some say the best things in life are the simple things. That is true in the case of Man On Fire (a remake of the 1987 flick of the same name), which has a straight-forward revenge premise built upon a very impressive emotional base involving its characters.
The always-impressive Denzel Washington stars as Creasy, “a drunk, a has-been”, who has become disinterested in life. He appears depressed, and attempts to takes his own life as he drinks Jack Daniels in isolation one evening, only to discover that his pistol misfires.
His old friend, Rayburn (Christopher Walken), finds him a job as a bodyguard, protecting a confident, young child named Pita (Dakota Fanning). She takes to Creasy immediately, calling him a “big, sad bear”, and he gradually begins opening up to her as the two spend more and more time together.
Their bond of friendship actually becomes so strong that Creasy vows to protect her by any means necessary. Thus, when Pita is then kidnapped, Creasy goes on a violent rampage through the depths of Mexico City, searching for the gang responsible for taking away his new-found friend.
This premise is straight-forward and direct, but it’s a testament to the chemistry between Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning that we believe Creasy’s attachment to Pita, and understand his sudden turn into a violent man (“Creasy’s art is death, and he’s about to paint his masterpiece,” says Rayburn.)
Brian Helgeland (who also scripted Payback, another revenge movie) must also be commended as he allows plenty of room for character development. As much as the brutal, onscreen violence that comes in the second half of the film is enjoyable, the early scenes between Creasy and Pita are truly precious and definitely worth the time.
When the violence does come, it’s brutal. In particular, there’s a scene where Creasy stuffs C4 in the anus of the gang’s head leader and then proceeds to interview him — it’s funny and disturbing at the same time, yet never feels completely out of the realms of Denzel’s character. There’s a vicious beauty about the whole thing, and because it feels like it’s justified, we don’t feel at all guilty for admiring it, and cheer Creasy on to do more destruction along the way.
Tony Scott’s hyperkinetic visual style is worth noting, also, as it is just as compelling as Creasy’s motives for revenge. Quotations flash up on the screen to add further to the tension, and make for the best scenes when the protagonist interrogates his enemies. He also uses a variety of camera tricks and cuts quickly between scenes to keep things moving quickly, while Harry Gregson-Williams’ edgy, urban score plays in the background.
On the down side, Man On Fire is a little overlong; nevertheless, it’s a hugely enjoyable film, particularly for its terrific performances from the main and supporting actors involved (Mickey Rourke is also in there as a sleazy lawyer). It won’t win any awards in terms of originality, but it’ll tug at your heart strings ’til you start to think that vengeance really is a beautiful thing (if you didn’t think that already, of course).