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Man on Fire Review

By Shawn McKenzie 05/26/2004

April was a huge month for revenge flicks.  We had Walking Tall on the remake side, The Punisher on the comic book side, Kill Bill Vol. 2 on the Tarantino side, and Mean Girls on the comedic side.  One other revenge movie that made a splash in April was Man on Fire.  While not the best one (Girls and Bill share that title), it certainly wasn’t the worst (The Punisher has that dis-honor.)


Ex-operative John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is looking for work.  Despite an impressive resume, he is an alcoholic, so he is looking for any job he can.  Mexican industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his American wife, Lisa (Radha Mitchell) meet with their lawyer, Jordan Kalfus (Mickey Rourke), and decide that they need to hire a new bodyguard for their young daughter, Lupita a.k.a. Pita (Dakota Fanning), because Mexico has been experiencing a rash of kidnappings lately.  Her current bodyguard, Emilio, has quit, and they are worried that she might be a target.  A friend of Samuel’s, former CIA operative Rayburn (Christopher Walken), recommends Creasy.  Samuel meets with Creasy, and the ex-op lets the prospective employer know that he is an alcoholic.  Samuel says that he has the job if Lisa and Pita like him.  They do and he has the job, though he doesn’t warm up to Pita at first.  He still drinks, reads the Bible, listens to Linda Ronstadt, and carries around a bullet in a matchbox (for a possible suicide attempt.)  He eventually starts bonding with her, mainly when John starts coaching her on her swim meets.  Pita actually starts to give him a reason to live, and he is happy for the first time in years.  One day, that all comes crashing down.  While waiting for her piano lesson with Professor Lozzi (Jorge Picont) to end, a couple of corrupt Mexican cops and other nasty dudes surround Creasy, outgun him, and kidnap Pita, but not before he is able to take out the two cops.  He is very badly wounded and is arrested for the murder of the two cops.  He was innocent, and Mexican investigator Miguel Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini) knew this, so he secretly moves him to Rayburn and his wife Alicia’s (Georgina González) place to recuperate.  A local reporter for Reforma newspaper named Mariana (Rachel Ticotin) finds out that the two officers that Creasy killed were members of La Hermandad, “The Brotherhood,” a group that watches over mobsters and crooked cops.  Meanwhile, Samuel and Jordan negotiate with Daniel Sanchez (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) a.k.a. “The Voice,” for the return of Pita.  During the drop-off of $10 million, people intercept the drop, kill Daniel’s nephew Bingo (Aram Cardenas), and take off with the money, which causes Daniel to kill Pita in retaliation.  After fully recuperating, Creasy vows revenge on “anyone who planned it, anyone involved, anyone who profited in anyway from it”…“it” being the kidnapping and murder of Pita.  His investigation leads him to Bruno the Butcher (Heriberto Del Castillo), the leader of the Guardians, a group that participates in the kidnappings and holds them during the ransom process in the back of a nightclub.  Later, he finds out about how far up the corruption goes from a dirty cop named Victor Fuentes (Jesús Ochoa), who is ironically the head of the anti-kidnapping department.  He sets upon finding the leaders of the kidnappers, Daniel and his brother Aurelio (Gero Camilo), and doing just what he said he would…killing everyone involved along the way.


Director Tony Scott had actually wanted to make this movie, based on a novel by A.J. Quinnell, in the mid-eighties.  It was before his blockbuster hit Top Gun had arrived, and the only movie he was known for was The Hunger, an odd 1983 horror movie starring David Bowie and Susan Sarandon, but the studio wanted a higher profile director to helm the project.  Why they went with Elie Chouraqui, a French director who has never had a big American hit, is a mystery though.  The original, which came out in 1987 (but I’m sure was in development long before), starred Scott Glenn in Washington’s role and was set in Italy instead of Mexico.  I’ve never seen it, but from what I hear, it was decent.


I also hear that the relationship between Creasy and the little girl in the original was given more time to develop before the kidnapping, which is something that I thought should have happened in this one.  I do think that the amazing performances of Washington and Fanning contributed to some good chemistry, but if they had developed that relationship a little more, the rage that Washington expressed after the kidnapping could have been more intense.

Ironically, this version of Man on Fire is almost an hour longer than the original.  This version is decent, and all of the performances are great, but I just think that it could have been better.  It does suffer from the occasional cheesy action film line (“Forgiveness is between them [the kidnappers] and God.  It’s my job to arrange the meeting”), but coming out of Washington, they aren’t as cheesy-sounding.  If you want a good triple bill of revenge flicks, check this one out along with Girls and Bill.  The payback to you will be sweet.

Thanks to Century Theatres for letting me see this film.  Visit them at www.centurytheatres.com to find the location near you.

Get the soundtrack score composed by Harry Gregson-Williams:

Get the novel written by A.J. Quinnell that the movie is based on:

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Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

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Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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