Man on Fire
Revenge is a meal best served cold
Written By: Michaela Clement-Hayes
Date: 22nd December, 2014
The second adaptation of the 1980’s book Man on Fire by novelist Phillip Nicholson (writing as AJ Quinnell), Man on Fire is a violent, bloodthirsty film about revenge, with a surprising undertone of love and respect.
John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is an ex-US Special Operations soldier who lands a job as bodyguard to young Lupita Ramos (Dakota Fanning). Despite his hard, bitter exterior Creasy bonds with the girl and they become friends. He stops drinking and helps her with schoolwork and her swimming.
When she is kidnapped and killed during a botched ransom drop, Creasy exacts revenge on everyone who had anything to do with her kidnap. With bodies piling up, he finds out that Pita is alive and agrees to exchange his life for hers.
Although there are countless scenes of torture and murder, this film is one of my favourites. It also shows a warmer side to Director Tony Scott’s often soulless films (e.g. Enemy of the State), as the first part of the film allows relationships to develop between the main characters.
The acting from Fanning and Washington is excellent and their bond is entirely believable. This smart but lonely child manages to break down her bodyguard’s defences and remind him that he has a heart. Yet this is not a heart-warming story – there is a lot of violence and those involved in the kidnappings are killed in nasty, painful ways.
One character has each of his fingers shot off, before being blown up in a car, and another has a time bomb inserted into his rectum. As Christopher Walken’s character Rayburn remarks “Creasy’s art is death and he’s about to paint his masterpiece” – perhaps a little on the cheesy side, but it reminds us that death is what this man is trained to do. Although opinion is divided about the sadistic enjoyment Creasy garners from his victims’ death, it seems entirely justified in this case.
In fact the character who we feel the least amount of sympathy for is not a killer, or a kidnapper, but Pita’s father, who stages the kidnapping to get the insurance and then kills himself out of guilt, believing his daughter to be dead.
There are a few unnecessary subtitles – the film is set in Mexico – but these are not just to help the audience with the Spanish (or English), but for dramatic emphasis. It seems a pretty pointless exercise when the film itself has plenty of drama, but it’s an interesting experiment.
Although quite different from Phillip Nicholson’s original book, setting the film in Mexico rather than Italy makes it more current and dramatic. The introduction and character development do lengthen the film somewhat (it’s well over two hours), but they prevent the film from being just another revenge movie.
However, it’s the relationship between Washington and Fanning that makes the film compelling, rather than heartless.