Man on Fire (2/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

We are told that Creasy (Denzell Washington) is a suicidal, alcoholic, washed out CIA agent/assassin, so we have to buy into the idea that the CIA employs assassins, a dubious premise, at best. He’s recruited by Rayburn (Christopher Walken) to be a bodyguard for nine-year-old Pita (Dakota Fanning), the daughter of Lisa (Radha Mitchell) and Samuel (Marc Anthony) in Mexico City, where kidnappings abound. But in the first, extremely slow 45 minutes, we’re never told why Creasy is so depressed or why he’s an alcoholic and it’s never established why we should even like him.

After the seemingly unending first 45 minutes Pita is kidnapped and the rest of the film is Creasy trying to get even. If the first 45 minutes is this films Yin, then the last 95 minutes is its Yang, nonstop violence. If the first 45 minutes fails to create any reason for us to care about Creasy, the last 95 minutes fails to establish any proper moral principal grounded in any kind of philosophy other than the end justifies the means because Creasy goes off half cocked and graphically tortures, mutilates and executes everyone he can find he thinks was remotely responsible for Pita’s inevitable kidnapping.  Worse, Creasy does it in cold blood and shows absolutely no emotional response to his victims' suffering.

One of the prime requirements for a thriller is for the protagonist to be in almost constant danger. British writer Eric Ambler established this when he started writing his intrigue novels in the ‘30s and it has been continued and respected by virtually every book and movie in the genre since. Until now, however.  Director Tony Scott and writer Brian Helgeland fail to put Creasy in any kind of danger whatever as he’s pursuing the bad guys. We are never concerned about his safety or well-being. We know he’s in control, even when he’s outnumbered, and that he’ll prevail.

Christopher Walken is completely wasted in a meaningless role. They could have cast Rayburn with an unknown from Central Casting. Why waste a talent like Walken, and, for that matter, Mickey Rourke, who plays Samuel’s attorney, Jordan, in roles that require such little effort?

The worst parts of this deplorable film are the ways it desensitizes the audience to graphic mutilation, torture, and horrible death, and justifies vigilante justice. Fox has done it again. They’ve made a movie that fails the tests of common decency and good taste.

April 21, 2004

The End