April 29, 2004

Man on Fire

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Man on Fire comes across as the two masks of Greek drama: one always laughing, the other always sobbing. It is the only way to describe this film, a weird combination of talented directing and terrible writing. It’s too bad that director Tony Scott is unable to rescue this film from its long and predictable script. Denzel Washington’s acting manages to salvage the film a little, but in the end, Man on Fire is almost two and a half hours of storytelling so uninspired that a five year old could predict the next scene.

The basic plot of Man on Fire involves former special agent Creasy (Denzel Washington) who, at a low point in his life, takes a job as a bodyguard to Pinta (Dakota Flanning), the daughter of a Mexican industrialist. Pinta is kidnapped during an attack where Creasy is mortally wounded. As a result, Creasy pledges to eliminate all those responsible for the young girl’s disappearance before his time runs out.

As mentioned before, Scott delivers this film’s redeeming qualities. His direction is inspired by the intense and fast-paced film style presently emerging from Latin American cinema. With the film’s setting in Mexico City, this new and entertaining style, seen most recently in the Brazilian hit, City of God, fits perfectly. Scott even manages to make his subtitles artistic. Hopefully, in the future, Scott’s directing will finally meet up with a script worthy of his talent.

The real disappointment in this film lies in screenwriter Brian Helgeland. The screenplay is not just written poorly, but also unoriginal. Helgeland is a peculiarly bi-polar writer who either pens great screenplays or total bombs. Helgeland’s huge swings between great and disgusting are one of the reasons why he is one of the only screenwriters to win an Oscar and a Razzie (the Oscar’s opposite that honors the year’s biggest bombs) in the same year. In that year Helgeland wrote the Oscar award-winning screenplay for L.A. Confidential and the total bomb, The Postman. It seems that 2003 is a similar year for our bi-polar screenwriter. Helgeland has won honors for writing the script for the great film Mystic River, only to emit the mind-numbing screenplay for Man on Fire a few months later.

While Washington is a talented actor, he is still only as good as the film he stars in. While Washington reads his lines well and with a powerful style, its just a shame that the lines he reads are poorly written. Even veteran actor Christopher Walken shows up and does what he does best, delivering a few nice monologues in his broken up tone.

Man on Fire could have been a decently filmed movie involving the topic of revenge presented in the new and emerging Latin American style. Instead, due to a poorly written screenplay, it is merely a work of cinema that will most likely be forgotten in a few months. If you want to watch a film on revenge, go watch Kill Bill Vol. 2. If you want to see Latin American cinema done right, try downloading City of God. Just don’t spend your money on Man on Fire.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer