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 Man On Fire
 Critic's Rating
   [B-]
 Date Posted
   27th September, 2004
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Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken
Director: Tony Scott

This year can officially be labelled the year of the revenge movie. The best of them was Beatrix Kiddo and her 'roaring rampage of revenge' while Frank Castle and his brooding, self indulgent voyage of vengeance baffled cinemagoers with its ponderous pace. Now comes Tony Scott's 'Man on fire', which finds the always terrific Denzel Washington in a less than stellar and uneven production about another individual with that single minded determination to hunt and kill for the sake of retribution, and though it doesn't really sink to the lows set by Marvel's superhero fiasco it fails to live up to the very high standards set by Tarantino's visual wonder.

For starters, viewers upset over certain shaky sequences in this summers 'Bourne Supremacy' will find themselves reaching for the nearest aspirin after sitting through two and half hours of Scott's heavily jerky, jittery and frantic camerawork. Though somewhat expected, and usually well used in previous Scott movies such as 'Spy Game' and 'Enemy of the State', its inclusion here is both ungratifying and unwelcome simply because it is overdone and has by now overstayed its welcome.

Of little help is the fact that 'Man on Fire' essentially feels like two different movies fancifully put together as one overlong narrative to tell a story that achieves no emotional core. When Mexican businessman Samuel (Marc Anthony) requires the services of a polite and presentable bodyguard for his daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning), he is lead to a former counter insurgency expert or more colloquially, an assassin, Creasy (Washington), who is recommended by Creasy's old friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken, that most wonderful of supporting actors) for the job. He accepts, despite his persistent drinking problem, but remains distant and cold, wanting nothing to do with the child he is given the responsibility to protect. Pita on the other hand silently grows affectionate towards him; the way impressionable pupils become fascinated by their teachers.

For a movie where audiences already know that a kidnapping is likely to occur, Man on fire takes an awfully long to make its point. But this first half, where Creasy is shown first warming to the genial affections of his subject, and later acting as surrogate father, is actually the better, more recommendable portion of the film. Once Pita has been kidnapped, as is inevitably expected, the movie seems to lose its balance. Washington, in revenge mode, is fine; it is the fact that the premise shifts gears midway in such a sudden way that it becomes disloyal as both an action film and a proper relationship drama.  

Even the choice of music heavily alters between electronics and seemingly redone Lisa Gerrard vocals. The violence during the latter stages becomes ineffective and fizzled because it doesn't sustain or last long enough to leave any resonance. The entire sequence involving Creasy cleansing himself in a swimming pool after each revenge sequence is a calculated misfire. Movies like this, though well made and entertaining in a passive way, just reinforce the greatness of other similar and better done movies, such as Kill Bill which is of the same genre, but not the same quality. - Faizan Rashid

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