I have to say that I am surprised to admit it, but I rather enjoyed Tony Scott’s Man on Fire. The title isn’t entirely accurate as it should have been Man on Slow Burn, but that isn’t nearly as good of a title. Here’s what we know going into the movie: Denzel Washington is a bodyguard to Dakota Fanning. Dakota Fanning gets kidnapped on his watch and Denzel goes for revenge. That’s the whole premise of the movie and I knew part of the timeline a couple years ago, but I forgot that it isn’t until 50 some minutes into the flick that Fanning gets taken. The first 50 minutes are build. Build of some tension, build of the relationship between Fanning and Denzel, build of why exactly Denzel would go after the kidnappers. It’s not bad. Fanning does a good job, which somehow surprises me every time she does so and shouldn’t by this point, and Denzel is...Denzel. An excellent actor.
Christopher Walken says of Denzel’s character that some men are artists in painting or music, but Denzel is an artist of death and this is to be his masterpiece. And, in a way, he’s right. Denzel is brutal and inventive in how he works up the ladder of folks involved in the kidnapping and it’s impressive. You believe that Denzel can do this stuff and you believe that he will do everything he says he will...mostly because he then follows through. It’s a hero doing very bad things. And we cheer. Maybe that says something else about the viewer.
My only gripe is the ending, and I can’t discuss it in detail because that would just be a full blown spoiler and I try not to do those. I felt let down in two ways. I felt that the ultimate end cheapened some of what came before, though in another sense it fit. The only thing I’ll say about that is to pay attention to Denzel talking to the nun earlier in the movie. There is a theme that plays through the entire movie.
I think Man on Fire was panned by quite a few critics when it came out, though there were those who really admired and enjoyed the movie. I think Man on Fire is somewhat underrated because it is a pretty decent movie. Nothing special, but good performances and a good simple story. Tony Scott is a bit jumpy in allowing some camera work that was about to make me car sick and that wasn’t necessary, but most of the film plays straightfoward without the camera trying to give you epilepsy.