Take a pretty-darned-good & doomful French thriller & add an American budget permitting excesses only Hollywood thinks are necessary, & you might end up with Man on Fire (2004).
John Creasy (Denzel Washington) has long been a CIA operative, soldier of fortune, & assassin. But Creasy's weary of his profession; he fears God can never forgive the horrors he has perpetrated in this world; & he wants to drink himself into oblivion.
But when he's hired to protect a little girl, Peta Ramos (Dakota Fanning), he discovers a gentler reason to exist: to be the knight in shining armor to a precocious open-hearted child.
But then Peta is kidnapped, & probably killed, by a crew from Mexico who are part of a secret & untouchable organization including highly placed government men of inexaustible power. It's good for the story that Peta's so soon removed from the story, as it's much easier to pretend she had a personality that would change a man's feelings about all of life if we don't have to see the dear critter as just another manifestation of gag-me-with-a-spoon Dakota Fanning.
Rayburn (Christopher Walken) defines the film when he says, "Every man is an artist. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece."
The killers may be untouchable through normal channels, but in destroying what felt like a surrogate family to a man who'd given up on life, they squelched the last hope of a man very dangerous to have as an enemy.
They have nothing to hold over his head that will change his grim path. He begins killing his way through villains, one after another, intent on the assassination of everyone, high or low, who had anything whatsoever to do with the child's death.
We are "treated" to a series of cruel tortures & radical slayings. It's an ultra-revenge piece with artsy editing, great acting, fine cinematography, a level of production & performance rarely given to a bloodletting exploitation film.
The script though polished has very little original to convey. Another weakness is the excess of fire gags. The fire gags are more numerous than the splattering blood-packs. Cutting to bombs & blazes seems to be a method of sanitizing the excessive violence in an exploitation film that wanted to market itself fairly mainstream.
A cheaper film might've lingered longer on the stuff that's gross & gory, but an expensive film needs not to threaten or disgust the masses. Fire gags are thus preferred to gore gags. It's too bad they couldn't think of something else entirely to sustain interest, because blowing things up again & again is just lame.
Handsome-handsome Denzel is trying to take on a grubbier look & persona than usual, but this only makes him handsomer still. He's a nihilistic antihero with conviction & much of the character is drawn right out of classic samurai films, or from those French thrillers inspired by samurai nihilism.
One villain is a woman in an advanced state of pregnancy. By now Creasy has a bullet in his stomach but still can't be stopped. He always tortures somebody to get what he needs to know to lead him to his next torture & killing, but doing in a pregnant villain wouldn't be all that cool.
The predictable but good plot turn is when his tortures reveal the possibility that Peta is being kept alive. It changes Creasy's plans tremendously, as until now all he had to do is kill everyone who ruined his life. When it becomes necessary to save someone, however, the enemy after all has a negotiating position.
In Hollywood terms, a "moral" killer who uses such extreme viciousness has to die in the end as the only method of redeeming himself. But this is also a samurai tradition, & Creasy's method of negotiating will be the girl's salvation & his own redemption.
The entire film is shot in Mexico & it has a beautiful soundtrack. A lovely action film overall, though I could still wish for fewer fire gags which just aren't as interesting as stuff that's up close & personal.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl