Review: [In Memory of Tony Scott 1944-2012] MAN ON FIRE (2004) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Review: [In Memory of Tony Scott 1944-2012] MAN ON FIRE (2004)


One of this movie's particular scenes got me bug-eyed: "He's an artist of death", says former mercenary Rayburn (Christopher Walken) of his long-time friend John Creasy (Denzel Washington), "and he's about to paint his masterpiece. I really don't have anything else to say." It's hard to believe that a veteran and capable actor like Walken can say anything like that in such serious tone where it supposes to be dumbfounded.

Based on the A.J. Quinnell's novel, this movie was originally director Tony Scott's pet-project for his second film after his vampire art-film debut of THE HUNGER way back in the 1980s where it starred Scott Glenn. However, Scott's relative newcomer status at the time prevented him from landing the job, and lost the project to a then more-bankable filmmaker. And that of course, Scott went on to direct TOP GUN instead where the film became a major box-office hit and thus launched both of his own career as well as then-unknown Tom Cruise. It took an incredible twenty years for him (who's also happened to be one of the producers) to get his long-time project off the ground and what ends up here as an overblown result of DEATH WISH-style, that continues as well as concludes this month's favorite "vigilante" genre theme (along with WALKING TALL, KILL BILL VOL.2 and THE PUNISHER).

Guilt-stricken and alcoholic former U.S. military operative John Creasy travels to crime-ridden Mexico City to visit Rayburn (Walken), who has crawled out from under his own murky past and wanted to start a new life. Rayburn turns to Creasy because he believes in him and therefore promises him a highly-paid job. It turns out to be that a high-strung, wealthy Mexican businessman Sammy Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his steely American wife, Lisa (Radha Mitchell) need a bodyguard for their precious 9-year-old daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Ramos doesn't want top-of-the-line personal protection, just someone who looks for the part and will convince both Lisa and kidnapping-insurance underwriters that he's doing his part to protect Pita.

As Creasy begins the job, he continues to struggle with alcoholism, depression and suicidal tendencies (he always keeps a bullet in the chamber of his 9mm pistol). He doesn't talk much to the very friendly Pita and just wanted to concentrate on doing his job well. But from time to time, Pita has somehow turns Creasy's stone-cold behavior into someone more cheerful and tender.

Not long after, they become close companions. But as their unlikely friendship grows stronger, something has goes terribly wrong in a tragic turn when Pita is kidnapped and Creasy is being gunned down pretty badly. The mysterious lead kidnapper known only as "The Voice" demands the Ramos family a $10 million cash in return for the life of Pita or else. In the meantime, Creasy is slowly recovering from his injury and thus begins his soulless-killing spree in search for whoever are responsible for the child abduction, no matter what it costs.

What sets this otherwise straightforward revenge story apart is the first hour's part of engaging drama that touches on the theme of friendship, care, trust and understanding. Here we see and thus feel such sense of involvement and warmth of the the emotional growth between the unlikely friendship of Creasy and Pita.

By contrast, Denzel Washington made an engaging and also a tender presence that matches well against the soft-hearted and cheerful Dakota Fanning who continues to impress everyone with her child acting that is nothing short of magnificent. In fact, their chemistry between them feel so real and organic that their characters' interaction has made the movie even more watchable.

Unfortunately, all that is going nosedive by time it's all shifted into an incredibly brutal and heartless movie filled with a series of spectacular display of showy violence that goes overboard (not to mention lots of dizzying camerawork): There's a scene where Creasy wrapped one of the suspected kidnappers' both hand on the steering wheel with masking tapes and cuts off his fingers one by one before blowing his head off. That's not all, he pushed the car with the dead kidnapper inside off the cliff and send them both into oblivion. Another one is just too excessively violent, especially one elaborate set-up involving a C-4 bomb inserted into a man's ass.

If that's not enough, Tony Scott's blazingly out-of-control direction is one confusing, over-the-top mess that is chock-full with his usual flashy visual sensibilities: bleary freeze frames, random changes of color saturation and lots of film stock, jump cuts and stuttering montages, and not to mention a series of annoying, splashing text of Mexican and English subtitles that flows and dissolves on the screen.

Call this a somewhat experimental filmmaking, but it's just doesn't work well as a form of entertainment and more of some of a motion sickness that will make you go queasy. In the end, it's all style and little substance, overlong and bloated. And it's just too much.

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