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MAN ON FIRE   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Monday, 08 November 2004
Brutal. Bloody. And Brilliant, like a thousand exploding petrol stations.....Thereís a few things you need to learn about Denzel Washington . Firstly, heís a damn good actor. Even better here than Training Day . Secondly, whatever you do, donít piss him off. Or youíll pay.

And believe me, you really will.

Plotwise, this is a fairly standard, run of the mill revenge thriller. But itís not just that. Shot through with brilliant and inventive camerawork and cinematography and kinetic, explosive editing, man on Fire is way above and beyond your average Hollywood movie. I mean in terms of Plot itís not got much depth, but man on Fire shows that Tony Scott might even be getting to be as interesting a film maker as his brother Ridley. Tall words, but Man On Fire justifies them.

Denzel Washington plays washed-up drunk Creasy, an ex-military vet with an all too common ability Ė to drink excessive amounts to kill the pain. Yet when he is approached to work as a body guard to a family and their young daughter Ė Pita - he has to start anew. Keep the drink under check. Which he does, just about. We know from the off that her father Samuel (Marc Antony ) , is only hiring him to keep the kidnap insurance policy valid, and well, its not like they are hiring the best bodyguard in the world. But When Pitaís parents start to be wrapped up in their business, going away for days on end, Creasy has to be there. To protect her, to nuture her. To be like a father to her. And It makes a difference. Heís there for her, in the way that her parents are not Ė perhaps it might be that they even choose not to be there. She makes the difference to him Ė to make him feel life is worth living again. Its when Pita is kidnapped, that all hell breaks loose.Shot and bleeding, Creasy does all he can to save her, but he cannot. As is usual, the police get involved and a payoff from the insurance policy is arranged. One ambush and ten million missing dollars later, Creasy knows that Pita has now expired her usefulness, she is bound to be dead. And he finds himself with nothing left in the world to live for , and he has nothing to lose. Except the driving desire to ensure that whoever is responsible will pay.And so, one by one, he hunts them down. Ruthlessly and brutally.

So, as I say, a revenge thriller. Sounds quite simple. But its not Ė because where Man On Fire excels is not in the occasionally derivative plotting, which is satisfyingly complex and not too predictable ; itís not like you know the end going into the movie, but every plot development is logical and becomes apparent just before it happens and makes perfect sense. No, where it excels is character. Every character here seems like a living breathing real person, especially pita who is played naturistically and believably by 9 year old Dakota Fanning . The relationships are believable and convincing. Add in a dash of bleak dark humour and fine performances across the board and what you have is a compotent thriller. But what is it that makes Man on Fire so damn good?

The fact that five minutes in, you wish theyíd made the last Bond movie this good.The vibrant. This Fresh. Itís mainly down to effective and tense editing coupled with an inventive use of sound, and some absolutely stunning cinematography from Paul Cameron , which gives it an occasionally bleached out, occasionally dry and dirty grungey look. He did Swordfish and Gone In Sixty Seconds and Collateral , and all of those sported a similar look. Here, combined with the Mexican locations, it looks stunningly fresh.

But most of all, unlike a lot of films I see nowadays, Man On Fire doesnít wimp out. Thereís a lot of films which have a 15 rating, but thatís because they hold back. Not this. Its an 18. For graphic violence. Because Itís Brutal. Gritty. Itís got new and inventive ways of blowing up people, maiming them and killing them, in ways I hadnít even considered. What he leaves behind is a bloody uncompromising mess.What this is, is what a Bond film should be Ė interesting, fresh, vibrant and in your face. I was left thinking during this, I wish the last Bond film had been a tenth as good as thing.

Man On Fire is much like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps slightly too long, and the ending could have done with being a bit more explosive (watch it, youíll know what I mean), but its well balanced in its pacing , brilliantly shot, with inventive sound and editing, with a series of explosive setpieces that are novel and inventive in their methods of mass destruction. With a well balanced character driven script, exciting and inventive action sequences, and much more, Man On Fire shows that Christopher Walken, Mickey Rourke, Denzel Washington and especially Dakota Fanning . Adult to the core, this movie the emotional gravitas and endlessly quotable dialogue.

This is the kind of film the Bond movies wish they could be as good as, and Iím not kidding.Highly recommended.

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