This is a redemption movie – in this case, redemption for CIA assassin (“counter insurgent expert”) John Creasy – a burnt out alcoholic in search of forgiveness for the heinous acts perpetrated under the banner of his job (“Do you think God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done?”). Creasy’s path to redemption is laid out by his friend and compatriot Rayburn, who lands him a job as a bodyguard for a wealthy family in Mexico City. Apparently kidnapping the children or spouses of wealthy cor…orate types is a highly profitable enterprise, and the corrupt police force and organized crime community work together to make it pay off. Creasy’s role as bodyguard centers around protecting Pita Ramos – the daughter of a Mexican auto-parts magnate – an exceedingly cute, exceedingly non-Mexican little girl with a heart of gold that brings Creasy back from the brink self-immolation.
This is a remake of a 1987 production, also titled Man on Fire. According to comments on IMDb, the original is a much edgier, rawer production that has more overall credibility than the 2004 version, but missies out on the dialog of the well-acted Washington/Fanning relationship, and stylized camera work of Paul Cameron.
As redemption movies go, this one doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises. I’m not going to throw in any spoilers, but suffice it to say that the progression from down-and-out to healed and happy to angry and on-the-brink is predictable. At times, Creasy’s actions are deplorable and uncomfortable to watch, but one can’t help but feel a sense of righteous satisfaction as various malevolent characters are creatively dispatched.
I’m classing this movie as a drama (instead of action), as the action scenes in the movie are definitely second string to the Creasy emotional component. The bittersweet ending of the film also marks it as a drama – the action and determination of the film’s middle movements tapers off into a slow, melancholy finale that leaves the viewer with mixed emotions – definitely a dramatic finish.
Denzel Washington plays Creasy in his trademark deeply troubled, gravelly voice, introspective, moody way. His acting certainly suits the mood and character, but the fact that so much of it is stock Denzel Washington material rather decreases its impact. Watch this movie back-to-back with The Manchurian Candidate, and you’ll see, or at least I saw, many of the same mannerisms and approaches to acting certain situations; this isn’t entirely unexpected (or a bad thing) now that I think about it – both Washington characters are military men, who are severely off their game for one reason or another – so perhaps I’m too quick to judge Washington’s acting style.
Washington is supported by cult-popular Chris Walken who also rolls out his repertoire of traditional Walken acting foibles – stilted dialog, weird emotional distances, and everything else you’d expect. Dakota Fanning rounds out the a-list as Pita Ramos in an entirely credible and well-done child-star performance.
The audio isn’t standout for any particular reason. There’s a DTS track for those equipped to appreciated it, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that the base 5.1 audio is entirely acceptable. One particularly well executed item is the ambient sounds in barrio scenes – i.e.: tv’s and radio’s, birds, screaming kids in the distance, etc. – well placed spatially, and well mixed for sound levels, I thought that they really rounded out these scenes well and created a feeling of surreal reality.
From the look of the film, particular attention has been paid to the use of saturation, brightness, and contrast to parallel and describe Creasy’s mental state. Washed out monotone is replaced by deep, soft colours, eventually replaced in kind by harsh, washed-out glare and edgy contrasts. While all of this was done for the big-screen version, its been carried onto DVD very well. That being said, as with the audio, there aren’t really and standout features. The quality of the DVD release is seen in the absence of comments here – the video is well done, in the lack of edging, grain, damage, etc.
One commentary fills out the features of this disc, featuring the director, Dakota Fanning, the screenwriter and produce. A good commentary with lively discussion and interesting factoids, but nothing earth-shattering. It would be very cool to see a Collector’s Edition of this movie, including both the 1987 and 2004 versions, with the directors doing commentary on each other’s movies.
The movie and the DVD release complement one another perfectly. Both are enjoyable, and competent, but not exceptional. This release is recommended buying for Washington or Walken fans, but for the rest of us can be done as a rental.
Special Features List
- Commentary Track