‘Man on Fire’ has a strong story, but Tony Scott made it overly stylized

Denzel Washington struggles to save Dakota Fanning in 'Man on Fire'
Denzel Washington struggles to save Dakota Fanning in ‘Man on Fire’

I’m a fan of Denzel Washington. I think he’s one of the best actors around, and I’m always willing to watch a film if he’s in it. I can say the same for Tony Scott, who I think is a visually talented director and strong storyteller.

With Man on Fire, I liked Washington’s character, John Creasy, a burned-out former CIA agent. He was dark and sympathetic, and I liked that the film really doesn’t tell you much about the character. You learn all you need to through watching his actions as he exacts revenge against the men and women responsible for the death of the young girl he was hired to protect.

What I didn’t like, however, was the overly stylized look of Man on Fire. Scott goes waaaay overboard with visual cuts, montages and visual effects. All these melodramatic gimmicks serve only to distract from the story, which was strong enough on its own.

Here’s the plot breakdown:

Creasy is a former CIA operative now full time drunk. In hopes of pulling him out of his depression, his friend (Christopher Walken) gets him a job as a body guard in Mexico City. He’s tasked to protect the daughter (Dakota Fanning) of a wealthy businessman (Marc Anthony).

But when the young girl is kidnapped and killed due to a botched attempt to pay the ransom, Creasy unleashes hell upon those responsible, entering into a dark world where life has no value beyond how much people will pay for it.

The story is actually very good, based upon the novel by A.J. Quinnell. It was made into a film back in the 80s and starred Scott Glenn. But what bothered me with Tony Scott’s Man on Fire is that he just got carried away. All the quick-cut, MTV-style nonsense does little but detract from the story. It’s distracting, reminding you repeatedly that you’re watching a movie. It’s virtually impossible to get pulled into the story because it constantly knocks you out.

Washington is his usual best. The man can pull off cold determination like few others, displaying a power that is intimidating. Christopher Walken is very subdued as Creasy’s close friend, who only appears briefly in the film. I was most surprised by him, because the character was so normal compared to his other roles, and Walken does it perfectly.

And, of course, how can you not mention Dakota Fanning. Undoubtedly the most impressive child actor to come around in decades, she goes toe-to-toe with Washington and never loses ground. She amazes me every time, because Fanning teams up with some of the best actors around and manages to always look good, sometimes outshining her co-stars.

The new Man on Fire “All Access Collector’s Edition” DVD is loaded with special features, and they’re all pretty darn good. The two commentaries, one with Tony Scott, another with Fanning, producer Lucas Foster and screenwriter Brian Helgeland, are great — although because I didn’t really care for Scott’s visuals I can’t say I agreed with much of what he said.

There are 14 deleted scenes, some of which are interesting, along with an alternate ending. Both feature optional commentary by Scott. “Vengence is Mine: Reinventing Man on Fire” is a great documentary about the making of the film, which also discusses how it differs from the book, which was somewhat dated and needed to be altered to fit into today’s world.

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