April 29, 2004

Movie Review: Man on Fire

(d. Tony Scott, s. Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony) ***

I went into this movie not quite sure what to expect, from the commercials it struck me as a formulaic action movie with shades of The Professional. What we get is a violent revenge movie with a surprisingly touching story at it's heart. The centerpiece of this movie is the wonderful relationship between Washington's Creasey and Fanning's Pita. We watch the character's grow and develop in a more natural way than you would normally get in an overblown action movie. It is not without it's pitfalls, but we'll get to that later.

The first half of the movie focuses on the relationship between Creasey and Pita. Creasey is a weary alcoholic that isn't up to performing a job as a bodyguard. Pita takes a quick liking to her new bodyguard, and he slowly opens up and seems to let go of what had brought him to that low point at the start of the movie. The second half is where the meat of the action takes place. After the kidnapping, we are treated to Creasey's single minded pursuit of every last person involved with the kidnapping, they will pay. Creasey uses various forms of torture to get what he wants. The action is spectacular from the staging of the kidnapping through to Creasey's assault on a nightclub.

I will say that what made this movie was the emotional connection that the viewer is able to make with Pita. Dakota Fanning is a great child actress, so long as you excuse the excrement she was in known as The Cat in the Hat. She delivers her lines with the confidence of a seasoned vet, yet is still able to convey the innocence of her age. She has a bright future as an actress. Denzel, on the other hand, is also very good. I must admit that I have never been the biggest fan of his, I feel he tends to overact a bit much, and that doesn't always fit the tone of the film. Here, though, it works. The movie is over the top to begin with so it really fits with the tone of the movie. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Christopher Walken, who I feel was a bit underused. He plays a friend of Creasey's but exists more as a means of exposition, the best of which is a speech given to one of the detectives, which you see a part of in the commercials.

The film is not without it's flaws. The first thing that struck me was the editing. It falls into that MTV style of quick flashy cuts within scenes and used for segues to the next segment. At times it was a bit much and should have been cut down on. The second thing, and possibly the biggest flaw, is the lack of story. The story that we get is a very basic revenge plot anchored by a surprisingly strong character relationship. I wanted to know more about Creasey's past, I wanted to know about Pita's parents and why they would be targeted for kidnapping, I wanted to know more about the relationship between Washington and Walken. Sadly, we don't get much and I just see that as a missed opportunity that could have put this into the realm of great action films as opposed to a good action movie. And finally length, it was too long. There were scenes that just went on too long, with a running time of close to two and a half hours, I think about a half hour could have been trimmed to tighten it up into a better movie. The length wouldn't have been a problem if the story had a bit more depth.

Overall, it is a very good action movie, again mainly because of the emotional depth in the relationship between the two primaries. Tony Scott has crafted a fine film using some interesting angles and drawing out these fine performances. It also succeeds in more pure style over substance of story.


Post a Comment