“A Promise to Protect. A Vow to Avenge.”
Denzel Washington is of course no stranger to tackling dark roles and while Man on Fire is not his greatest film, it does feature one of his most memorable performances.
He portrays a troubled assassin named Creasey who begins working as a bodyguard in Mexico City. His young charge is Lupita (Dakota Fanning), the precocious daughter of a wealthy businessman. After she is kidnapped during a bloody ambush Creasey vows to kill everyone involved in her disappearance.
The relationship between Creasey and Lupita, who family and friends lovingly call Pita, gets off to a rocky start. He has no desire to be her friend and that is what the young girl desires from him above anything else. Like many children, it doesn’t take very long before Pita eventually begins to soften Creasey’s rough exterior and the two form a special bond.
Pita’s doting parents are played by Marc Anthony and Radha Mitchell. It is easy to look at them and surmise that they are good parents because they have hired a bodyguard to protect their child (a practice not uncommon in Mexico). However, there are some allusions made to fact that Anthony’s character Samuel is involved in some shady business dealings. His lawyer is portrayed by Mickey Rourke and when the two meet they seem to always have their conversations in hushed tones and dimly-lit restaurants.
The strength of this film definitely lies with Washington and his ability to convey so much emotion with very little dialogue. It’s obvious that Creasey is haunted by his mysterious past and uses alcohol as a way to cope. The subject of faith is incorporated into the narrative very early on; when we’re introduced to Creasey we see evidence that he is on a spiritual journey. He owns a tattered Bible that he has obviously spent much time reading, although he has been unable to find solace in its pages. His only friend is Rayburn, played by Christopher Walken, and the two often have conversations about forgiveness and the wrong they have done during the course of their lives.
In perhaps the most pivotal moment of the movie Creasey attempts to take his own life, only for the gun not to go off. This obviously puzzles him at first, but ultimately the act sobers him and he puts down the bottle. This incident somewhat restores his hope and cements his purpose in the world. Moving forward, his character seemingly makes it his mission to put his everything into protecting the young girl.
While the actual kidnapping is sad to watch, seeing Washington track each perp down more than makes up for it. As to be expected bodies hit the floor, but not before our “hero” tortures information out of them. He’s an assassin so he knows how to get creative in order to get what he wants. Snapping fingers in half, holding informants hostage and placing explosives in the derrière of a dirty cop comes natural to him.
The only real issue I have with the film is the distorted imagery featured in many of the scenes. I wasn’t a fan as it was sometimes hard to focus on the story with all the shaky, jumbled visuals. If it were any other actor in the role it might have been necessary to use such means to convey the rage, frustration and unease that Creasey felt. However, with an actor as seasoned and talented as Denzel it just seemed distracting and overkill.
The ending may be predictable to some, but I must admit that I was surprised by how some its elements were handled. It didn’t follow the formula I was expecting which I can always appreciate. Overall, Man on Fire is a solid film that is full of entertainment and features Washington in stellar form. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out!
Man on Fire is directed by Tony Scott, written by Brian Hegeland (based on the novel by AJ Quinnell) and stars: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Giancarlo Giannini, Marc Anthony, Mickey Rourke, Radha Mitchell, Rachel Ticotin and Christopher Walken.