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Laramie Movie Scope:
Man on Fire

Yet another dark tale of vengeance

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 26, 2004 -- “Man on Fire” is yet another in the current rash of films about vengeance which include “Kill Bill” and “The Punisher.” Although it is artfully done and features some great acting (unlike those other two vengeance films), it is too dark and dreary. The humanity of its central character can't quite overcome his inhumanely cruel, repetitive, murderous vendetta that casts a dreary shadow over the last hour of the film.

Oscar-winner Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) stars as Creasy, a burned out government assassin who ends up in Mexico City. He's a suicidal alcoholic who reluctantly agrees to be a bodyguard for a young girl, Pita (Dakota Fanning of “Uptown Girls”). The main threat is kidnapping. There are large numbers of kidnappings in Mexico City, and Pita's parents, industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell) are wealthy. Gradually, the very charming Pita gets past Creasy's emotional defenses to become his friend. Creasy becomes a father figure to Pita and she inspires him to stop dying and start living again. Then Pita is kidnapped and the ransom money is stolen. Enraged, a badly wounded Creasy rises from his hospital bed and vows vengeance on those who shot him and kidnapped the girl. He begins a one-man war on anyone who had anything to do with the kidnapping. His quest leads to some unusual suspects. Creasy leaves a trail of death as he relentlessly closes in on the mysterious ringleader of the kidnappers, a man known only as “The Voice.”

Creasy is aided in his quest by an old friend, Rayburn (Christopher Walken of “Catch Me if You Can”), as well as by an intrepid newspaper reporter, Mariana, played by Rachel Ticotin, and a police detective, Manzano (played by the celebrated Italian star Giancarlo Giannini), who has been trying to break the kidnapping ring. Another interesting character in the film is Jordan Kalfus (Mickey Rourke), the Ramos' family lawyer.

The acting in the film is outstanding, as you might expect from such a stellar cast, and that includes young Dakota Fanning, who is both smart and charming. Washington does great work here playing a tortured character much like the one he played in “Courage Under Fire.” Christopher Walken is excellent as usual playing a character that seems tailor made for him. Walken usually plays bad guys, but this time he gets to play a good guy. Mickey Rourke also does a nice job in a supporting role. The screenplay (adapted by Brian Helgeland from a novel by A.J. Quinnell) does a great job establishing the relationship between Creasy and Pita. It also does a nice job on character development. Most of the main characters in the film are rich and complex. The character of Creasy is one of those complex characters. He is also quite mysterious. We never learn much about his background, except he is a professional killer, a very dangerous man.

In additon to great acting, the film's musical score is also excellent. The cinematography by Paul Cameron (“Gone in 60 Seconds”) and the editing by Christian Wagner (“Die Another Day”) is very flashy, indeed. These two, along with veteran action director Tony Scott (“Spy Game”), pull out all the cinematic stops to make this film look great. The location shots in Mexico City have a gritty realism about them. In many ways this is a top notch production. The main problem I have with the film is that Creasy's humanity seems to disappear for large part of the film. He seems methodical in the way he murders various people involved in the kidnappings. He's like an emotionless killing machine. After a while, this cold killing becomes monotonous. I understand Creasy's motivation for what he does, but he seems too evil to be a hero, especially for a guy who reads the Bible a lot. He must have concentrated on that Old Testament wrath of God stuff. There are some elements of redemption in the story. It is not just a tale of unspeakably evil and morally corrupt people, but it is mostly that. It is too dark for my tastes. It makes “The Passion of the Christ” and both “Kill Bill” movies look bright and sunny by comparison. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)