Review: “Man on Fire”

I knew it was going to happen but I didn’t expect it so soon, Tony Scott has definitely jumped the shark with his new movie. ‘Man’ is yet ANOTHER revenge themed flick on the April market, just a week after the brilliant “Kill Bill Vol. II” and the decent “The Punisher” hit theatres.

Sadly ‘Man’ falls more towards the latter of those two – it’s a hodge podge of “Punisher”, “Proof of Life”, and the score from “Gladiator” combined with Scott’s jarring visual/editing style which more than ever feels like an attempt to distract from the lack of a script or anything new to add to the overworked genre. At 2.5 hours it’s also a very long, unrelentingly dark and exhausting slog which many will find tough-going.

Still it shouldn’t be dismissed as its strong performances manage to hold it altogether. Washington is superb as usual as his very gruff and determined self. His strong presence lending credibility to the assorted violent acts his character commits in the second half. Fanning again proves to be the most formidable young actress out there with a powerful and sweet part. Smaller roles however from Mitchell, Anthony, Walken, Gianni, Ticotin, etc. are all rather flat and leave the actors without much to do except comment about how they should stay out of Denzel’s way.

The script divides itself in half – the first is a rather standard set-up with the young Fanning breaking down the tough Denzel thanks to her charm and determination. It comes across as a little unbelievable and somewhat trite, although it’s interspersed with some odd subplots of alcoholism and relations with the family.

The second half is pure hunting down those responsible. As much as the pace does pick up, the film oddly loses focus here with assorted people appearing and being tortured with little explanation as to how they link into the kidnappings. Things get more over the top violent as they progress (including an anal bomb with a on-screen timer I kid you not) towards a rather silly ending which is left even more insulting with a ‘special thanks to Mexico City’ message.

Scott’s quick cut style, combine with his varied filming techniques, adds a roughness and energy but after a while is not just distracting but ultimately pointless. The score which starts with a different and interesting Latin beat dissolves into warbling and annoying chorals. Mexico is filmed with a mixed sense of dark atmosphere and bleak crowded metropolitan vistas.

The emphasis here is on style rather than story, but the seeds are here for what could’ve been a great kidnap drama. It’s a shame neither the writing and or direction were pulled together enough to form something original let alone memorable, nevertheless as retreads go it’s still a solid film.