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Tony Scott’s Man On Fire

Tony Scott’s Man On Fire is one of those films I can watch time and time again and never get tired of, a magnificently melancholy tale of south of the border justice, criminal intrigue and a tequila shot of pulpy, blood soaked style that gets me every time. It’s loosely based on a 1987 film of the same name starring Scott Glenn, Jonathan Pryce, Danny Aiello and Joe Pesci (there’s a random lineup) but Scott intrepidly branches off into new territory, and thank the gods for his vision. This was the first film where he really explored that sketchy smokehouse of an aesthetic that he would later take to angelic heights with Domino. Colors blur and saturate, editing rockets by with the force of a bullet in a storm, subtitles appear arbitrarily and seemingly of their own volition. It’s a jarring tool set that he employs, and many abhor it. I’m as in love with it as he was though, and whether to throw us right into the protagonist’s psyche or simply because he felt the need to paint his pictures this way, the rest of the films in his remaining career carried the DNA, in varying doses. Fire is the key word for this film, in many of it’s forms. There’s a smoldering ember in Denzel Washington’s John Creasy that is fed by the winds of corruption as the film progresses, erupting into a blazing inferno of violence and fury. Creasy is a broken man, haunted by the questionable, never fully revealed actions of his military past. “Do you think God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done” he grimly asks his old war buddy Rayburn (a scene stealing Christopher Walken). “No” Rayburn ushers back curtly. It’s at this heavy nadir we join Creasy, lost in a sea of alcohol and guilt, an unmooored ship with a shattered hull looking for both anchorage and repair. Rayburn hooks him up with a bodyguard gig in Mexico City, keeping the young daughter of a rich businessman (Marc Anthony, terrific) safe from the very real threat of kidnapping. Dakota Fanning is compassionate, precocious and endearing as young Pita, who spies the wounded animal in Creasy right off the bat and tries to make friends. Creasy draws back in reluctance, but eventually warms up. I love the pace of this film to bits. It spends nearly half of its hefty running time simply getting to know these two characters, forging a bond between them before the inciting incident even looms on the horizon. And when the kidnapping occurs, as it must, the stakes are high as can be and our investment level in the situation is paramount. Setting up character is so key, and Scott nails it with scene after scene of quiet and careful interaction. Then he yanks the lid off the pot, as Pita is snatched in broad daylight, Creasy is shot and the kidnappers vanish into thin air. Pita’s mother (a soulful Radha Mitchell) works with the dodgy Mexican authorities and her husband’s lawyer Jordan (a sleazy Mickey Rourke). Creasy has other plans. Once healed, he embarks on a mission of fury and vengeance, knocking down doors, removing limbs, inflicting gratuitous bodily harm and using every technique in his training (believe me, there are some interesting ones) to track down those responsible and get Pita back. Washington does all this with a calm and cool exterior, letting the heat emanate from every calculated syllable and intense glare. The descent into Mexico City’s criminal underworld is a grisly affair, and all sorts of ugliness is exposed, shredded through the caffeinated prism of Scott’s lens. Two cops do what they can to help Creasy, idealistic Guerrero (Rachel Ticotin) and battle hardened Manzano (the always awesome Giancarlo Gianninni). It’s Creasy’s show though, and he blasts through it like a righteous hurricane of blood and bullets. Scott’s films have a knack for ending in over the top, Mexican standoff style shootouts, but the man subverts that here, going for something far more sorrowful and atmospheric, ending an intense tale on notes of sadness and resolute calm, gilded by the aching tones of songstress Lisa Gerrard and composer Harry Gregson Williams. Walken provides both comfort and catharsis, the only beacon of hope for Creasy other than Pita. Unlike John, Rayburn has moved on from the horrors of their past, but one still sees the trauma in his soul when he looks John in the eye and gets hit with what is reflected back. Tough stuff to get right, but hey, it’s Walken we’re looking at here, and he’s brilliant. Rourke has little more than an extended cameo, but his flavor is always appreciated, and he’s great too. I had no idea Anthony had the chops he exhibits here, but I loved his arc as well and he holds his own in a blistering confrontation with Creasy. Washington is an elemental beast, shadowing what’s left of his humanity under a cloak of booze and brooding contemplation, until he’s coaxed out by the life saver Pita is. Then he’s a lion, riding guns out into a ferocious swan song of a sunset that may just hold rays of redemption for him. This is Scott at his best, his unique brand of storytelling at its height, his creative juices a canister of lighter fluid set aflame with genius and innovation. A masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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Man On Fire (1987)

You’d have to dig a bit to discover that Man On Fire with Denzel Washington is actually a remake, or rather another version of a book that’s out there somewhere, but there is indeed film from 87’ bearing the same title and basic plot outline, albeit with a heavy dose of melodrama. Swap out Denzel and Chris Walken for Scott Glenn and Joe Pesci, Mexico City for Italy and Tony Scott’s neo-punk visual aesthetic for a more stone-faced, straightforward approach and you’ll have some idea. It’s a passable film, but instantly pales with any comparison to Scott’s outing, which is a masterpiece and one of the best films of the century. Glenn is Creasy, a mopey ex CIA soldier who gets a job from buddy Pesci protecting a wealthy businessman (Jonathan Pryce) and his family, mostly driving their precocious young daughter (Jade Malle) around. The two are rocky at first, begin to bond, she’s kidnaped and Creasy wages war on the criminals who took her with an arsenal of firepower provided by Pesci. At ninety minutes it’s a little too short for any of this to be developed properly, or proportionately so to other elements, but it works well enough. The strongest bits are the early scenes where they make friends, brought to life by Glenn’s warm smile and Malle’s emotional curiosity. The final act of revenge feels oddly rushed, awkward and too overblown to justify the lack of action we get, it should have been more hot blooded and sustained. It’s still a decent piece though, with the distinct cast doing fine work, especially Pesci who is volatile and unpredictable, almost stealing the film from Glenn. Nothing compared to Scott’s version, but worth a look.

-Nate Hill

Tony Scott’s Man On Fire: A Review by Nate Hill 

Tony Scott’s Man On Fire is one of those films I can watch time and time again and never tire of, a magnificently melancholy tale of South of the border justice, criminal intrigue and a tequila shot of pulpy, blood soaked style that gets me every time. It’s loosely based on a 1987 film of the same name starring Scott Glenn, Jonathan Pryce, Danny Aiello and Joe Pecshi (there’s a random lineup, no?), but Scott intrepidly branches off into his own territory, and thank god for his vision. This was the first film in which he really explored his sketchy smokehouse of an aesthetic that he would later take to angelic heights with Domino. Colors blur and saturate, editing rockets by with the force of a bullet in a storm, subtitles appear arbitrarily and seemingly of their own volition. It’s a jarring tool set that he employs, and many abhor it. I’m as in love with it as he was though, and whether to throw us right into the protagonist’s psyche or simply because he felt the need to paint his pictures this way, the rest of the films in his remaining career carried the DNA, in varying doses. Fire is the key word for this film, in many of it’s forms. There’s a smoldering ember in Denzel Washington’s John Creasy that is fed by the winds of corruption as the film progresses, erupting into a blazing inferno of violence and fury. Creasy is a broken man, haunted by the questionable, never fully revealed actions of his military past. “Do you think God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done” he grimly asks his old war buddy Rayburn (a scene stealing Christopher Walken). “No” Rayburn ushers back curtly. It’s at this heavy nadir we join Creasy, lost in a sea of alcohol and guilt, an unmooored ship with a shattered hull looking for both anchorage and repair. Rayburn hooks him up with a bodyguard gig in Mexico City, keeping the young daughter of a rich businessman (Marc Anthony, terrific) safe from the very real threat of kidnapping. Dakota Fanning is compassionate, precocious and endearing as young Pita, who spies the wounded animal in Creasy right off the bat and tries to make friends. Creasy draws back in reluctance, but eventually warms up. I love the pace of this film to bits. It spends nearly half of its hefty running time simply getting to know these two characters, forging a bond between them before the inciting incident even looms on the horizon. And when the kidnapping occurs, as it must, the stakes are high as can be and our investment level in the situation is paramount. Setting up character is so key, and Scott nails it with scene after scene of quiet and careful interaction. Then he yanks the lid off the pot, as Pita is snatched in broad daylight, Creasy is injured and the kidnappers vanish into thin air. Pita’s mother (a soulful Radha Mitchell) works with the dodgy Mexican authorities and her husband’s lawyer Jordan (a sleazy Mickey Rourke). Creasy has other plans. Once healed, he embarks on a mission of fury and vengeance, knocking down doors, removing body parts, inflicting gratuitous bodily harm and using every technique in his training (believe me, there are some interesting ones) to track down those responsible and get Pita back. Washington does all this with a calm and cool exterior, letting the heat emanate from every calculated syllable and intense glare. The descent into Mexico City’s poverty stricken criminal underworld is a grisly affair, and all sorts of ugliness is exposed, shredded through the caffeinated prism of Scott’s lens. Two cops do what they can to help Creasy, idealistic Guerrero (Rachel Ticotin) and battle hardened Manzano (the always awesome Giancarlo Gianninni). It’s Creasy’s show though, and he blasts through it like a righteous hurricane of blood and bullets. Scott’s films have a knack for ending in over the top, Mexican standoff style shootouts, but the man subverts that here, going for something far more sorrowful and atmospheric, ending an intense tale on notes of sadness and resolute calm, gilded by the aching tones of songstress Lisa Gerrard and composer Harry Gregson Williams. Walken provides both comfort and catharsis, the only beacon of hope for Creasy other than Pita. Unlike John, Rayburn has moved on from the horrors of their past, but one still sees the trauma in his soul when he looks John in the eye and gets hit with what is reflected back. Tough stuff to get right, but hey, it’s Walken we’re looking at here, and he’s brilliant. Rourke has little more than an extended cameo, but his flavor is always appreciated, and he’s great too. I had no idea Anthony had the chops he exhibits here, but I loved his arc as well as his performance and he holds his own in a blistering scene with Washington. Washington is an elemental beast, shadowing what’s left of his humanity under a cloak of booze and brooding contemplation, until he’s coaxed out by the life saver Pita. Then he’s a lion, riding guns out into a ferocious swan song of a sunset that may just hold rays of redemption for him. This is Scott at his best, his unique brand of storytelling at its height, his creative juices a canister of lighter fluid set aflame with genius and innovation. A masterpiece.

TONY SCOTT’S MAN ON FIRE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

3

Tony Scott’s slick, gritty and highly influential revenge thriller Man on Fire is over 10 years old (which seems insane to think about!) and it holds even more fiery resonance today than when it did upon first release. Brian Helgeland’s hard-nosed, straight-ahead screenplay set a simple foundation for Scott to run amok with his distinct brand of directorial tricks. The film is a stylistic tour de force and serves as a bridge from the post-Bruckheimer era to the more experimental/artiste period for the filmmaker. Mixing staccato editing patterns with mixed film-stock cinematography by the brilliant cameraman Paul Cameron (Deja Vu, Collateral) that occasionally borders on the avant-garde (Scott would push his maximalist style to the breaking point in his next film, the career-defining genre-bender Domino), Scott utilized wildly creative subtitles (notice the fonts and screen placement) and a hyper-layered soundtrack of both scored and sourced music and threatening ambient sounds, thus achieving a fractured-nightmare quality that sneaks up and envelopes the viewer, as it does lead character Creasey, played with stoic resilience by Denzel Washington. Bloody and violent but never unnecessarily so, the film has a mean-streak a mile wide, but also contains, like so many other Scott films, a seriously warm heart. The restless, nervy filmmaking aesthetic intelligently meshed with the damaged psychological complexities of Washington’s character; it’s a slow burn performance and one of Denzel’s absolute best and most compelling. And every bit his equal was Fanning, whose enormously affecting performance as the girl-in-trouble makes the viewer care each and every step of the way, no matter how dark and nasty things get within the framework of the story. Creasey’s about to paint his masterpiece, and we’re invited to the wild show. Man on Fire is one of the best examples of its genre.

2